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March To Conquer Cancer Rally

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Saturday, September 26, 1998

Every single one of us today has been inspired by our heroes. I'm lucky, because my hero lives under the same roof. Thank you, Tipper.

Today, I have some new heroes. Thank you Renee Cole, for working to save other women from cancer. Thank you Dani Grady, for riding your bike 4,000 miles to make a difference. Thank you Ellen Stoval, for believing that 100,000 people would come to Washington for a March to conquer cancer. And most of all, thank you -- all of you -- for showing America that we can meet, we can treat, and we can beat this horrible disease.

This isn't just a noon rally for cancer. This is high noon for cancer. It was more than a quarter-century ago that America first declared war on cancer. We are here today because we want to be the first generation that finally wins that war. I want to talk to you for a few minutes today about what we are doing to redouble our commitment to make it happen.

As any cancer survivor will tell you: the power to fight cancer comes from the heart and from the soul. But most of all, it comes from being able to imagine a day when you are cancer-free. I want to begin today by asking all of you to imagine a day when America is cancer-free.

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning and reading that not a single American died today from cancer. Imagine waking up in a world where not a single child has ever heard the word "chemotherapy." Imagine waking up in a world where children at the local kindergarten start the school year with a nap, a flu shot, and a routine cancer immunization. And imagine how it would feel to visit the Smithsonian and see a radiation machine next to an iron lung as a relic from the past.

Make no mistake about it: this dream can happen in our lifetime. But to get there, we have to continue to make cancer research a priority today. And it's time: because this disease has haunted this land and hurt our families for too many years.

We meet today in the shadow of the Washington Monument, a short walk from the Lincoln Memorial, and a stone's throw from the Memorial to FDR. Guess what they have in common? George Washington's mother, Franklin Roosevelt's daughter, and Abe Lincoln's great-granddaughter all died from this horrible disease. In America today, more than 40 percent of us will be diagnosed with cancer, and 20 percent of us will die from it. If you're wondering what that means, visit the Vietnam Memorial when this rally is over. If we were going to build a monument to all the Americans who die from cancer this year, it would take ten Vietnam Walls.

Like all of you, when I hear the word "cancer," I don't think of statistics, I see faces. I have spoken often about my family's tragic experience with this disease in the past. Tipper has had similar experiences. We have all seen what cancer does, and we are here today because we hope for a day when it doesn't happen to anyone else.

Thanks to your work, and the breathtaking advances in science, we are closer to a cure than we have ever been. From 1991 to 1995, cancer deaths actually dropped for the first time in history. As we meet here today, the first medicines to prevent prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer are being tested. You know, I have run the Race for the Cure more than five times, and I love that race. But one of the happiest days of my life will be the day that none of us has to run it again.

President Clinton and I have been proud to play a role in this progress. We have helped cancer patients keep health coverage when they change jobs. We have accelerated the approval of cancer drugs. We have increased funding for cancer research. We are working to end the most preventable form of cancer by stopping our kids from smoking. And today, we are taking unprecedented new steps to build on our progress to make cancer a relic of the past.

First, President Clinton and I have proposed the largest increase in cancer research in history. Somewhere in America today, a young researcher has an idea that will one day lead to a cure for cancer. It would be a tragedy if his idea was lost because we didn't fund his project. This March proves that Democrats and Republicans can come together to conquer cancer. We also need to do more to ensure that patients are involved when research decisions are made. Nobody knows more about this disease than cancer patients and advocates, and your voice must be heard. That's why, today, we are announcing that by next spring, the National Cancer Institute will ensure that patients have a full voice -- at every step of the way.

Second, we need to be sure these advances are used to improve treatment for people with cancer. We are just a few years away from the complete sequencing of all the genes in the human body. In 1996, I unveiled the Cancer Genome Project, a historic effort to unravel the genetics of cancer. I am proud to report that already, this project has more than doubled its original goals. Today, we issue a historic challenge to the scientific community: as we unlock the genetic code, let's make sure we develop new diagnostic techniques for every major kind of cancer by the year 2000 -- so we can catch it at its earliest and most preventable stage. History shows: if we crack the enemy's code, we win the war. We are going to win this war for America's families.

Third, let us do more to improve access for patients to cutting-edge clinical trials. We won't cure cancer if only three percent of America's cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials. Today, we are directing the National Cancer Institute to speed up the process, to allow patients to be enrolled on the spot with no wait. We are also calling on Congress to pass our proposal to cover the patient care costs for Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in clinical trials. America's seniors make up more than half of all cancer patients. They deserve to have the latest weapons to fight it.

Fourth, we need to continue to improve quality breakthrough medications and treatments for cancer. Two years ago, we launched an historic effort to speed up the drug approval process while maintaining quality.

In just two years, we have more than doubled the number of approvals for new therapies. Today, we have a new weapon in the war against breast cancer. Just last night, the Food and Drug Administration approved a brand new, cutting-edge drug to treat breast cancer. This will help some of the 1.6 million women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. There is one more thing we can do to advance this fight. Congress should not go home until it confirms oncologist Jane Henney to be the first woman Commissioner in the history of the Food and Drug Administration.

Fifth, we need to make sure that these advances are used to improve the quality of life of cancer patients. As we crack the genetic code, it should be used to improve treatment, not increase discrimination. No person should be have their health care or their job put at risk because they are genetically at risk for cancer. I urge Congress: pass our proposal to give all Americans the protection they deserve. At the same time, no American should feel like they can't go to their doctor because they're afraid of who will see their medical records. Privacy is a basic American value, and it must be upheld. I urge Congress: work with us to keep medical records private. And let's make sure that critical health decisions are made by doctors, not by bean counters in the back room. If you're in the middle of chemotherapy, you shouldn't be forced to stop treatment because your employer changes health plans. I urge Congress: give Americans the quality care they need, when they need it. Pass a strong Patients' Bill of Rights into law.

Some people say it's impossible to find a cure for cancer. But 100 years ago, they said the same thing about smallpox. Sixty years ago, they said the same thing about polio. They were wrong then -- and they are wrong today. The beauty of this March is not just that all of you have come together to conquer cancer. The beauty of this March is that your lives and your stories prove that yes, we can conquer cancer.

When people say that we can't make prevention work, we say, "YES WE CAN." When people say we can't find a cure, we say, "YES WE CAN." When people say we can't get people involved, we say, "YES WE CAN." When people say no we can't, we say, "YES WE CAN."

Can we save lives? Can we save families? Can we find a cure? Working together, marching together, fighting together, I know we will. Thank you.

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