Hope for a Cancer Cure Shines Brighter Than Ever

Thousands will gather to honor loved ones and advocate for cancer research.



Next week, cancer advocate Karen McKay will travel from Florissant, Missouri to Washington, D.C. to light a luminaria, a small paper lantern, in memory of her mother who lost a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer several years ago.

McKay’s luminaria will be joined by an expected 16,000 others that will surround the Capital Reflecting Pond during the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) Lights of Hope ceremony. Each luminaria is lit to honor or remember a specific someone who has been touched by cancer. Together they will spell out the words “hope” and “cure” on steps of the U.S. Capitol building.

The event is the finale to the annual ACS CAN National Leadership Summit and Lobby Day, during which more than 600 cancer patients, survivors, advocates, caregivers and family members meet with lawmakers to remind them that the fight against cancer must be a national priority. Advocates will ask for support for cancer research funding, medical innovation and access to cancer therapies and palliative care.

McKay is the leader of the Ambassador Constituent Team (ACT!) in Congressional District 1 for ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. It provides her with an opportunity to meet with federal legislators and lobby for pro-patient and pro-innovation policies that she believes will one day lead to a cure. “I continue to hope for a cure, and my hope will always be there until we find one,” McKay said.

Today, there are good reasons to be hopeful. U.S. cancer survivorship has more than doubled since 1975, with 83 percent of survival gains in cancer attributable to new treatments developed through medical innovation.

But medical innovation still faces high hurdles; bringing a new therapy to market today can take to 15 years and $2.6 billion in investment.

We’re not the scientists, and we’re not the doctors, so we need to be the advocates

During Lobby Day 2015, McKay and others will urge lawmakers to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which would increase funding for cancer research and modernize the regulatory process for new medical treatments that are improving patient lives. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation, thanks in part to the efforts of thousands of ACS CAN volunteers who urged their representatives to support the bill.

Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN, believes that it’s important that the organization focuses its efforts on not just funding for research but also support for medical innovation and access to new therapies. “What has come out of the research is basic science, not a product,” Hansen said. “The product is what companies like Celgene do with that science. That product equals hope for us.”

For the second year, Celgene is proud to be working with ACS CAN on the 2015 Lights of Hope activities. “This partnership represents our two organizations’ commitment to drive innovation forward on behalf of cancer patients and their families,” said Joel Beetsch, vice president of Patient Advocacy at Celgene. “The Lights of Hope event honors the memories of those we have lost, the tremendous fight of the survivors, and the important work left to do in this battle against cancer.”

McKay urges those whose lives have been affected by cancer to become involved in ACS CAN’s advocacy efforts. One simple way to do so, according to McKay, is to purchase a Lights of Hope luminaria in honor or in memory of a loved one by visiting http://www.acscan.org/lightsofhope.

“We’re not the scientists, and we’re not the doctors, so we need to be the advocates,” McKay said. “We’re the ones who bring the story to the legislators to get the needed funding. You never know which dollar will be the one that finds the cure.”