and two jobs that I loved, I was a
professor in constitutional law and
a state senator. As Susan Sontag put
it in Illness as Metaphor, when she
said that everyone is born with two
passports—one for the kingdom of
the well and one for the kingdom of
the sick—I was using my passport for
the land of the living and the healthy.
By the middle of the year, I was using
my passport for the sick and the dying.
It all started when I went to the
doctor because I was experiencing
reflux symptoms. He recommended
that I have an endoscopy and then
said, “While you are there why don’t
you have a colonoscopy too.” So, I did.
I knew there was something wrong as
soon as I woke up from the procedures
because there were nurses and doctors
all around my bed. They told me they
had seen nothing unusual during the
endoscopy but that the colonoscopy
had revealed a problem. There was
mass the size of a walnut in my colon.
They didn’t know immediately that it
was cancer but several days later test
results confirmed that it was.
At that point, it was off to the races. I
began six weeks of daily radiotherapy
and chemotherapy, which was highly
effective at shrinking the tumor. Then
I had a long but successful surgery to
remove the tumor.
My final treatment was another
eight cycles of chemotherapy, which
the doctors recommended because
the cancer had spread to some nearby
The entire course of my treatment
was grueling, especially the surgery, but
my family helped me through it. I did
take a semester off from teaching but I
continued my work in the State Senate.
In fact, my floor leadership on marriage
equality and repeal of the death penalty
gave me something positive to focus on
rather than my health.
Since the end of my treatment I’ve
been monitored closely but there has
been no sign of recurrence of cancer
and I consider myself to be cured but
still vigilant. I’ve also become more
determined than ever to increase
access to health care. It was hard
enough for someone like me, who has
great health insurance, to deal with
my diagnosis, I cannot imagine how
devastating it must be for those who
have no health insurance.
One piece of legislation that I am
cosponsoring with Congressman
Charlie Dent (R-Pa) and Congressman
Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), the
“Removing Barriers to Colorectal
Cancer Screening Act of 2017,” aims
to eliminate costs for all Medicare
beneficiaries receiving a screening
colonoscopy, even those who have a
polyp removed during the procedure.
Currently, if a polyp is discovered
and removed during a screening
colonoscopy, Medicare beneficiaries
are required to pay the coinsurance.
Eliminating the possibility that
unexpected costs will arise during
screening should increase the number
of people who get screened, which is
vital for early detection and improved
My experience has also strengthened
my resolve to make sure that the
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
gets the investments it needs to
keep funding the researchers who
are making breakthroughs against
diseases like cancer. These diseases
affect all of us in some way. So, I’m
going to stand up strong and defend
deep federal investment in the NIH. It
is, after all, an investment in the lives
of people all over the country.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR CANCER RESEARCH 59
" My experience [with colorectal cancer] has also
strengthened my resolve to make sure that the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) gets the investments it needs
to keep funding the researchers who are making
breakthroughs against diseases like cancer. "
© AACR/Karen Sayre