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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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A Patient's View of Funding for Medical Research

by Guest Blogger, Jean Cowan, a retired Oregon elected official with over 20 years' experience as a small town mayor, a county commissioner, and a state representative

Feb 20, 2015 - June, 2014, saw my world turn upside down with the diagnosis of kidney cancer. After my nephrectomy, my prognosis was complicated by a disturbing pathology report. Told that the "standard of care" is simply watchful waiting, I readily agreed to participation in the EVEREST clinical trial at OHSU, under the care of Dr. Christopher Ryan and his amazing team. I am now 21 weeks into that study. My personal experience has given me a new appreciation of the importance of cancer research.

In order to lend support to Dr. Blanke's amazing effort to increase awareness of the critical need for better financial support of cancer research, I recently completed a television interview offering a patient's perspective of clinical trial participation. KGW-TV, an NBC affiliate, is covering Drs. Blanke and Sheppard's climb to the Mt. Kilimanjaro summit. Through it they will improve awareness of the importance of clinical trials and raise additional contributions to help offset the shrinkage in federal support for clinical trials.

I share the research community's concern about the substantial reduction in the NCI budget, the result of federal sequestration, and the potentially devastating impacts on studies such as Dr. Ryan's, which offer hope to cancer patients like myself.

When the reporter first posed this question, "Do you think the federal government should put more money into funding cancer research?" my initial thought was, YES, of course. But my experience with public budgeting quickly tempered that response. For years I have been faced with the challenge that any increase in one budgetary allotment, must (in a world of limited public resources) result in a decrease in some other allotment. That is the simple reality of city, county and state government funding.

But does the same concept hold true on the federal level? From my perspective, the answer is no. The thoughtful efforts which are applied to budgeting at the local and state levels are not uniformly applied at the federal level. I intensely dislike wholesale percentage reductions that come from sequestration. Rather, I believe strongly that all programs should be carefully reviewed, and that their value to the greater societal good be given far more consideration than is currently practiced. Instead, we too often observe politically motivated decision-making. We, the constituents, need to raise questions: "Are such devastating cutbacks more a matter of political maneuvering, rather than a lack of financial resources?" "Who are the real beneficiaries of these decisions?"

The efforts to generate more private funding for cancer research are admirable and should be continued. In addition, the science community itself needs to also take the question of federal funding directly to their respective congressional delegation members. Personally, I have a great deal of faith in the receptiveness of our Oregon Congressional representation to this issue. Ask directly for their help!

What is needed is a very loud "Squeaky Wheel." Let's work together to captivate the public's outrage and help our federal representation realize the importance of fully funding deserving scientific research!


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