Missing from campaign issues: medical research

Last modified: 1/7/2012 12:00:00 AM
One day in late August, my mom was out kayaking. The next night she found herself in the ER, reeling after a battery of tests, which soon led to a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

At first, the doctors thought she had lung cancer, which shocked everyone - she was a nonsmoker who led a healthy, active lifestyle. Soon, my mom went from having no symptoms to experiencing a variety of complications from the cancer. Then doctors found a tumor in her colon, leading them to believe that was the primary cancer. This tumor had not been picked up in her first series of scans. The cancer was growing so fast that this tumor led to a full abdominal obstruction in just a few weeks.

With the many complications and the aggressiveness of the cancer, treatment was no longer an option. My mom chose to move to the Hospice House at Concord Hospital, where she received extraordinary care. Nine weeks later, she passed away.

How could this be? If this could happen to my healthy mom, it could happen to anyone.

My world was turned upside down in a matter of weeks, yet I was determined to learn more about cancer to understand why many lives are needlessly lost.

Cancer's devastating toll has impacted thousands of families locally and weakened our state's economy. Each year in New Hampshire, there are approximately 7,000 new cases of cancer and 2,600 deaths. The disease's direct and indirect costs are estimated to be $1.1 billion.

How do we save lives and reduce the economic costs associated with this deadly disease? We need to ramp up our investment in research.

Our nation's investment in health research has largely stagnated during a time of unparalleled opportunity for breakthroughs. Every day, we hear about remarkable advances and discoveries, which could lead to new preventive screening methods or treatments for cancer. Yet it's harder than ever for scientists to obtain research grants, which puts the brakes on medical innovation.

Medical research is a critical issue for New Hampshire, for the country and for our health. Unfortunately, our elected representatives and the presidential candidates have not been talking about medical research. We need to work together to make sure policymakers recognize just how important medical research is for our nation's health and our future.

With a graying population and risk factors for cancer and other chronic illnesses afflicting more Americans, this issue should be at the forefront during this presidential primary season. Please, pay attention to where the candidates stand - funding medical research is a nonpartisan issue that affects us all. Without sustained leadership and investment in health research, patients and their families will be at a loss trying to combat diseases that could be prevented or potentially cured.

(Emily Norton lives in Concord.)

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