WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan wants Congress to treat — and fund — lung cancer like a national emergency.
“We are going to find a cure for this dreadful scourge,” Nolan told a crowd of survivors and supporters who gathered on the sunny lawn of the Capitol Thursday to lobby Congress to double research funding for lung cancer, and to keep doubling it until someone finds a cure. Standing beside him was his youngest daughter, Katherine Nolan-Bensen, who was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 lung cancer almost three years ago.
“She’s still here. We’re so proud of her. She’s so tough and so determined,” Nolan, D-Minn., told the cheering crowd.
Katherine, a mother of four, has received a series of targeted treatments for the aggressive cancer. Those treatments, she said, bought her time. Time to watch her oldest son go off to college. Time to help her 17-year-old fill out her college applications. Time to go to her younger children’s basketball and soccer games.
“I’m so very grateful,” she said. “I’ll be brutally honest … I have hope, but I feel as though I am going to die. … That’s a fear I live with every single day. So I pray and pray for more research. Please. We need more research for lung cancer.”
Lung cancer kills about 433 people a day. If a plane crashed every single day with 433 people aboard, advocates argue, it would be front-page news. A calamity.
Opioid overdoses kill 91 Americans a day, and last month President Donald Trump declared that a national emergency. The survivors want the nation to feel the same sense of urgency about lung cancer.
“We’re spending less in basic, fundamental funding for research on lung cancer than any and all the other cancers,” Nolan said. “And that’s just fundamentally unfair, it’s wrong and the time has come to declare a state of national emergency.”
Doubling the funding for anything is a big ask — and an even bigger challenge on the day the House unveiled a $1.51 trillion package of tax cuts. But the lung cancer caucus has members from both parties. In September, when Nolan pitched a $3.8 million increase for lung cancer research at the National Cancer Institute, he got it.
The NIH spent $331 million on lung cancer research in 2016. Breast cancer, by contrast, received $656 million in research funding.
Policy in Washington often spins out of personal ties, and almost every member of the Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus Nolan founded this spring has a very personal stake: a child, a parent, a friend, a bright young staffer who one day started getting short of breath.
“Katherine’s having a rally,” Nolan told his colleagues as he invited them to attend.
Afterward, the 150 or so people who attended planted 433 small fluttering pennants on the lawn, each marked with the name of a loved one stricken by lung cancer. Then they scattered to lobby their lawmakers.