An Occasion to Commemorate
Welcome to the final issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin for 2006. This issue is very special, not just because it's the conclusion of the Bulletin's third year, but because it's dedicated to an important event: the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the National Cancer Act of 1971 (NCA).
On such a momentous occasion, I felt it appropriate to highlight two former members of Congress who have been instrumental in making it possible for NCI to be the worldwide leader in cancer research, a position from which we have been able to accelerate the pace of scientific progress.
One of those people is a man who, these days, works just blocks from the White House, former Representative Paul Rogers. Among the pictures, letters, plaques, and other mementos of his career as a public servant that adorn his office is a black-and-white photo that shows Rep. Rogers and fellow Congressional leaders gathered around President Nixon during the signing of the National Cancer Act, a bill that brought sweeping changes and unprecedented new authorities to NCI.
That landmark legislation, in fact, came to pass, in large part, because of Rep. Rogers' perseverance. In the summer of 1971, he was chair of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, which was considering a bill passed by the Senate known as the "Conquest of Cancer Act." This bill would have, in effect, made NCI an independent agency inside the National Institutes of Health. Rep. Rogers, who was under pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike to move quickly and pass the bill, had doubts. He thought the bill, by granting NCI such a unique position within NIH, could lead to its breakup. That, he believed, would be tragic.
He convened weeks of hearings and marshalled support from the scientific community to help "educate the House and the public on the matter of cancer and how it should be handled." The bill that was enacted is an example of the best of American bipartisanship.
It was a similar spirit in the Senate - spurred by deep personal experience - that led former Senator Connie Mack, in the late 1990s, to champion the doubling of the NIH budget. Senator Mack's brother died from melanoma, he and his other brother had been treated for melanoma, and his wife and daughter battled cancer. So he has a personal understanding of the toll cancer can take.
"I have a picture on my desk at home of three little boys. I think we would have been 3, 4, and 5," he says. "It's a pretty dramatic reminder to me…about what we've experienced. It also gives me hope that we're going to be able to find a cure, but at the same time, a deep sense of frustration about how much more we have to do."
Sen. Mack's experience led him to the realization that it was time for a greater investment in research, particularly cancer, and he worked to bring more resources to the NIH and NCI.
As is often the case, it's individuals, and the policies or activities or movements they help start and sustain, that do the most good. And when the spirit to make a difference exhibited by people like Paul Rogers and Connie Mack takes hold, the true beneficiaries are not institutes and agencies, but healthier people.
I hope you enjoy this commemoration of the National Cancer Act and a look back at 35 years of progress. Have a joyful and safe holiday season.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber