As a father of five, I know that every parent’s worst nightmare is their children receiving a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. Tragically, this nightmare turns into a reality for over 15,000 families each year. Growing up, my childhood best friend was part of this statistic; he sadly lost his life to the fight. It wasn’t fair then and isn’t fair now when a child’s life is cut short. With today’s advancements in science, this statistic should not be as high as it is and cancer should not be the number one cause of death for our children. We see great strides in adult cancer treatments so why not in pediatric cancer? I founded the Childhood Cancer Caucus when I first entered Congress to change this and give a voice to those who are fighting this deadly disease.
Today, oncology drugs are no longer manufactured to target the region of the body where the cancer appears. Rather, the drugs now attack the tumor using “molecular targeting” – targeting of the specific cancer cells. This is a much more effective and efficient way to treat cancer. However, these new treatments are not often studied in children so doctors cannot prescribe these modernized drugs to help give our kids a chance at another birthday.
For the children fighting the most challenging forms of cancer, drug treatment can be limited. Our children deserve access to all treatments available for survival. That is why our caucus introduced H.R. 1231, the RACE for Children Act (Research to Accelerate Cures and Equity) to provide them this opportunity. RACE allows emerging cancer treatment drugs to be studied in children so that doctors will know which life-saving treatments are safe and effective for pediatric patients.
On July 12, 2017, this bill passed the House with overwhelming support in honor of children all over the country, including my good friend Sadie Keller from Texas. Sadie was just seven-years-old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and spent the past two years in treatment. Even during her treatment, she has found the strength to travel to Washington, D.C. with her mother to advocate for legislation to combat childhood cancer. We visited at the beginning of this year as she was meeting with members of Congress to advocate for RACE. Sadie fights for RACE because if this legislation was enacted into law when she was first diagnosed, she and thousands of other children would have a smoother road to recovery.
We can never forget that our most vulnerable populations do not have special interests advocating on their behalf. We must be their special interests. Parents and family members of loved ones affected by cancer continue to be the strongest advocates, but as lawmakers we must stand by them so our laws keep up with innovative cures. I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to do our part to rid this world of cancer, especially for those who are too young to voice their daily struggles and needs.
By putting our children first we are not only giving them hope, but the chance for a bright and prosperous future. As a strong advocate for working to find cures for childhood cancer, I am extremely pleased with the progress we are making in Washington, D.C. RACE is simply the beginning in developing promising cancer drugs for pediatric patients. It is also necessary to modernize the law and save thousands of children’s lives. As Sadie Keller says, “Together we can make a difference.” To Sadie, and all of the children who are in the fight of their lives, I want to say: We ARE making a difference.