BOSTON — It was the achievement of the 1960s — landing a man on the moon. The historic event was a direct result of President John F. Kennedy and his "moonshot" program.
Now, President Joe Biden has a similar ambition—cutting down deaths related to cancer.
CANCER IMPACTS EVERYONE
The thing about cancer is that it really doesn't care what plans you have.
"Your whole universe goes into sky fall," Karen Howley LaCamera said about her own ovarian cancer diagnosis.
"I am still angry," Dana Bernson said as she reflects on her late husband Jon who passed away when she was just 29.
LaCamera and Bernson are just two of the countless cancer stories that can be told in the United States. Every American seems to have their own story of a friend or family member getting the horrific news from a doctor.
Each year in the United States, there are more than 1.8 million cancer diagnoses and over 600,000 deaths.
There is a lot going on in our country, but one issue that may fly a bit under the radar is what President Biden calls his "cancer moonshot."
“We can end cancer as we know it," Biden said at a recent press event.
It's modeled after Kennedy's dream of going to the moon. In his budget released last month, the President requested billions from Congress for new research.
It's a program that started during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. The President wants the death rate from cancer cut by at least 50% over the next 25 years with a focus on funding new research methods.
WHAT CAN CHANGE?
So much of what is talked about in Washington never really happens. So you may be curious — how close are we to really curing cancer or cutting down the number of deaths? For answers, we went to the Dr. Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
"Can cancer be cured in our lifetime?" correspondent Joe St. George asked Dr. Harold Bernstein, an oncologist and lecturer at Harvard University.
"Cancer isn't just one thing," Burstein explained.
"The Kennedy moonshot was actually pretty easy—cancer is a more complicated problem," Burstein said.
The doctor believes this moonshot is a lot harder. In the 1960s, NASA had the science.
"We don't have all the science we need," Burstein said.
However, spending billions he says will help create better treatments and screenings.
"We don’t have a test to do early detection of pancreatic cancer," Burstein cited as one example.
Burstein says taxpayer-funded research could change that in our lifetime, while a cure is less likely.
"Would that be a blood test?" St. George asked.
"Probably," Burstein said.
One of the biggest issues more funding might solve is access to screenings that work. Of course, more screenings can result in fewer deaths.
Burstein envisions fewer appointments in hospitals and more mobile vans that can provide screenings like mammograms.
"It’s not cheap but it’s more costly to treat cancer," Burstein added.
So what are doctors' concerns? The pandemic showed us that when the government gets involved in health care, some distrust is created. For this to work, it can’t be political.
SURVIVING AND LIVING
As for LaCamera and Bernson, both women are actively doing their own part to cut down on deaths the best they can.
LaCamera speaks on behalf of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to help encourage women to get screened.
Meanwhile, Bernson volunteers with the American Cancer Society.
"How is it that I made it through," LaCamera reflects each day.
Thankful for being able to share Jon’s story and explain why I use my voice to advocate as an @acscan and @ACSCANMA volunteer with @JoeStGeorge from @EWScrippsCo this morning— Dana Bernson (@dlbernson) March 18, 2022
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"I was lucky to find a new fantastic partner," Bernson says with a smile as she tries to honor her late husband.
"I think cancer has touched all of us," LaCamera said.