“We want our congresspeople and senators to see the faces that cancer touches. This is not about dollars and cents. It’s about humanity. The humane thing to do is ensure people have what they need to fight this disease. It’s going to come down to research, funding, and the presented bills that will affect cancer as we know it,” said Flecia Brown, cancer survivor and volunteer for the American Cancer Society.

A heartfelt message from Georgia resident Flecia Brown. She is among the many passionate volunteers who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the American Cancer Society and Cancer Action Network’s Leadership Summit and Lobby Day. This annual event gathers cancer survivors and advocates from across the U.S. to get in front of congressional leaders and senators to push for bills to help fight against cancer. This space is also where education about cancer is shared and touching stories of caregivers and survivors are revealed.

“I’m 63. I’m here today because of an early diagnosis of Cancer when I was 39 years old. If I hadn’t been screened and tested, I wouldn’t have been able to call my late wife when she took her last breath on this planet. I would not have seen my youngest daughter graduate from law school to become a successful attorney. I would not have seen my son graduate from West Point, and I would have not remarried to the beautiful Patrice who completes my life. None of that would have happened,” said James Williams Jr.,  cancer survivor and director of Federal Affairs for the American Cancer Society and Cancer Action Network.

The American Cancer Society and Cancer Action Network (ACN-CAN) Leadership Summit and Lobby Day took place September 17 to the 20 in Washington D.C. Over 700 members of the American Cancer Society who are survivors and advocates traveled to the capital to lobby for bills that will provide more funding and resources for cancer research. ACN-CAN has done the summit for over 20 years. Their efforts increased funding for the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the CDC in 2022. ACN-CAN was also influential in passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010.   

In 2023, the organization advocated for three bills to be passed in Congress. First, congress will provide robust and increased funding for cancer research to $51 billion for the National Institute of Health, including $9.98 billion for the National Cancer Institute and $472.4 million for the CDC cancer programs. Next, increased access to prostate cancer screening for high-risk individuals, including Black men with the highest death rate for prostate cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Finally, a pathway to coverage for innovative cancer early detection tests in Medicare.

“Right now, there are only five cancers for which they’re screening: prostate, breast, lung, colorectal and cervical. Legislation will provide a pathway for the MCD test. This test can screen for dozens of cancers from a single blood draw. This will be a game changer for so many Americans,” said Williams.

A hurdle that has made the road more difficult for cancer survivors and their caregivers is expensive co-pays. Even with quality insurance, some individuals still have to pay high co-pays. According to Williams, expensive co-pays have hindered Black people from getting proper cancer screening. Prostate cancer occurs in Black men three times more than other races. Black men also die of prostate cancer seven times more than anyone else. Medical copays for cancer screening are the more significant factor regarding these statistics.  

The 118 Congress is scheduled to end on January 3, 2025. That is when we will see the results of the lobbying members of ACN-CAN have done. What’s following after the summit and the lobby day is more grassroots outreach in cities and towns. The volunteers of ACN-CAN will return home to educate locals about the laws and policies their state currently has on cancer research. They will also inform locals what bills must be voted on and which civic leader they must contact. 

Clayton Gutzmore is a freelance journalist in South Florida. He published stories in several news outlets including The Miami Times, 91.3 WLRN, The Atlanta Voice, BET, and Variety Magazine. Gutzmore graduated...