- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

"You have cancer." Three words that forever change the lives of nearly 3,300 people each day. Virtually no one has been untouched by this deadly disease, for cancer's reach is too far making no distinction regarding age, sex, income or race. It is an equal opportunity killer whose origins are not yet known and whose destruction knows no limits.

Most people are aware the country has committed to record levels of support to biomedical research. They are counting on President George W. Bush to submit a budget to the Congress that reflects an ongoing commitment to these necessary funding levels. Without his leadership, some fear the reasonable increases slated for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will meet strong resistance on Capitol Hill.

The numbers those who have died, those who suffer today, and those who will be diagnosed tomorrow only begin to put a human face on the devastation of this disease.

It is heart-wrenching to hold the hand of a helpless child laying in a hospital bed, withering away as cancer attacks one healthy cell after another; to stand next to a woman who no longer has her breasts, combing her hair as clumps fall out and tears stream from her eyes; or to witness the anguish of a once virile man slowly dying from the cancer that invaded his prostate with nary a hint or telling symptom.

It is these lives and countless others whose hope for survival lies in the kind of research done through clinical trials. If the president and Congress fail part way through a five-year commitment to double the NIH budget, hundreds of clinical trials and progress on potential new drug therapies will be put on hold. At a time of such great need, the fiscally responsible thing to do is to steadfastly support the NIH budget in keeping with the bipartisan promise set forth just three years ago.

I support fiscal control but not at the expense of patients dying everyday in homes and hospitals because research that will lead us to new treatments and a potential cure for cancer is not being adequately funded. Even at the levels projected under the doubling of NIH, much promising research is on hold for lack of funds. In fact, only a quarter of all research proposals sent to NIH actually get funded.

I implore our elected leaders to be mindful of the human faces behind the numbers as they begin work on the mammoth federal budget for 2002. As we stand on the edge of discovery, let's not delay our efforts.

While I cannot promise that the next big breakthrough will come tomorrow, I can promise that, without the necessary funding for critical research, that day is farther and farther away.

Norman Schwarzkopf, the retired U.S. Army general and former commander of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, is a member of the board of directors of Friends of Cancer Research.

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