Local ACS volunteers urge Washington to make cancer a priority

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   Thousands of American Cancer Society volunteers united in Washington, D.C. on September 19 to urge Congress to make cancer a national priority at the Relay for Life Celebration on the Hill. Local Relay for Life team member ambassadors, Lewis Honeycutt, of Hampton, and Jimmie Buck, of Elizabethton, attended the event.
   Representing 50 states and all 435 congressional districts, 3,000 "Relay Community Ambassadors" and thousands more celebrated cancer survivorship while telling Congress that more needs to be done to promote research, education, prevention, and expanded access to early detection and treatment to help people fight cancer.
   "Changes in law can impact millions of people, helping to accomplish the American Cancer Society's mission to eliminate cancer as a major health problem," said Honeycutt. "Celebration is the cumulative voice of millions of American Cancer Society volunteers sending a message to our elected leaders that cancer is an issue in their own backyards. We need them to stay committed to enacting policies and providing resources that will help people fight cancer."
   The group rallied around a makeshift track around the Capitol Reflecting Pool and part of the National Mall with individuals from every state delegation walking the track at all times to symbolize the ongoing fight against cancer. The 12-hour day opened at 10 a.m. with a special "survivors lap" around the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
   "It was a great event and was very exciting to be a part of the first one," Buck said. "I regret that more of our legislators from Tennessee did not come to the Hill. Sen. Frist was there and some legislators from West Tennessee. We went to Rep. Bill Jenkins' office to deliver our message, but he was not there," Buck said.
   "It was a multitude of people, and they were all there for the same reason - they want to see a cure for cancer," Honeycutt said.
   Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, an honorary co-chair of the event, along with his wife, addressed the group in the afternoon. Congressional leaders in the fight against cancer also spoke to the crowd while the Society's ambassadors met with their representatives and senators throughout the day.
   Celebration on the Hill is a grassroots event celebrating cancer survivorship and empowering survivors and others to advocate for laws that will help people fight cancer. With Congress working furiously to complete the federal budget, ambassadors specifically asked legislators for more funds for several organizations.
   Ambassadors requested lawmakers double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget this year, fully fund the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and commit needed resources to the new National Cancer Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities at the NIH. They also requested legislators substantially increase funding for cancer-related programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
   In addition. American Cancer Society volunteers asked Congress to support and pass the Eliminate Colo-rectal Cancer Act (S. 710/H.R. 1520) this year. The act would give patients access to a full range of life-saving colo-rectal cancer screenings, the same access Congress has already given Medicare patients.
   Highlights included a candle lighting "luminaria" ceremony held at dusk to honor cancer survivors and remember those lost to the disease, as well as the arrival of the Society's "Celebration Bus." Often called a "rolling petition," the "shrink-wrapped" bus gathered more than 120,000 signatures on its exterior during its seven-month trip through the continental United States.
   Overwhelming response to the bus led to the replacement of panels on several occasions to make room for more signatures. All of the fully signed panels were preserved and displayed at the event site. Entertainment, recognition ceremonies, and a specially recruited youth choir singing a composition by the noted pianist and conductor, Moses Hogan, rounded out the day.
   Celebration on the Hill is an American Cancer Society event organized under the auspices of Relay for Life, the society's signature activity. A unique overnight event representing the never-ending fight against cancer, Relay for Life offers everyone in the community an opportunity to fight cancer by walking or running to demonstrate their resolve to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem.
   This year, more than 3,300 Relay for Life events were held all over the country, raising $245 million for the American Cancer Society's research, education, advocacy and service programs. A total of 2.25 million people participated, including 450,000 cancer survivors. Relay for Life is the largest nonprofit fundraising event in the world.