In 1986, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Coming
face to face with my own mortality was life changing. But
I was fortunate in at least two respects.
First, by chance, my doctor caught the cancer early, in
stage 1. I underwent radiation treatment for two-and-a-half months. Throughout the process, I had excellent care.
Second, I worked for Senator Chris Dodd at the time. He
told me to take as much time as I needed to recover, that
my job was secure, and that his reelection campaign for
U.S. Senate would not begin until I returned. (It helped
that Senator Dodd was the original author of the Family
and Medical Leave Act!) I have now been free of cancer
for almost 30 years.
Cancer is a tenacious foe. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson
said, “We acquire the strength we have overcome.” Every
survivor knows that fighting this disease brings out your
own innate human resilience. You begin to savor every
moment of your life. And you yearn to use that time to
make a difference.
In my case, defeating cancer was one of the things
that propelled me to seek election to the House of
Representatives. I came to Congress in 1991 with the
goal of making sure that everyone diagnosed with cancer
enjoys the advantages I did.
Above all, that means finding enough money for lifesaving
research. I know that I am here today because of two
things—the grace of God and the hard work of biomedical
researchers. That is why I have made adequately funding the
National Institutes of Health [NIH] one of my top priorities.
Between 1998 and 2003, we doubled the NIH budget. It
will always rank as one of my proudest achievements. But
unfortunately, NIH funding has fallen behind in recent
years. Since 2010, it has seen its annual budget erode by
about $3.6 billion in real terms—an 11 percent cut. It is
time to raise it again. I have a bill before Congress right
now to allow that to happen.
My story also shows the importance of early detection.
When we make screenings widely available, death rates
plummet. With cancer, the earlier the treatment, the
better your chances. We need to give everyone a shot at
treatment as early as possible. Earlier this year, I was able
to secure language in the budget to stop a new rule that
could have limited access to screening for breast cancer.
Finally, we need to allow all cancer sufferers to take time
off to recover, just as I did. Thanks to Senator Dodd, most
Americans now enjoy family and medical leave. But many
cannot afford to take time off unpaid. We should build on
Senator Dodd’s legacy by requiring all employers to offer
paid family and medical leave. Again, I have a bill that
would put this in place.
Each one of us knows someone whose life has been
touched by cancer. For example, this year alone, more
than 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
They deserve the best possible fighting chance against
this disease, based on the best information and the latest
science. We have it in our power to give them the same
advantages I had. Battling cancer with medical science,
screenings, and basic compassion should be a priority for
every government, and every human being.
The honorabLe rosa L. deLauro (d-cT) // age 72 // ne W haven, connec TicuT
CAnCeR suRvivoR AnD
ChAmPion foR ReseARCh