Don’t Cut Funding For Cancer Research and Prevention

Here is the text of a letter I wrote to my congressman, the Honorable Rep. Mike Coffman:

Dear Congressman Coffman,

Tomorrow, your and your colleagues in the House of Representatives are scheduled to vote on H.R. 1 – a budget proposal for FY 2011 that makes critical cuts to cancer research and programs.

Compared to last year’s funding levels, this bill would cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget by $1.3 Billion and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) budget by $1.6 Billion.

The CDC budget funds critical cancer screening and prevention programs like the National Comprehensive Cancer Control program and National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This 21 percent cut will have a devastating impact on numerous proven cancer programs that save lives.

Research at NIH is also a critical tool in the fight against cancer. A 5.2 percent cut to the NIH’s budget will slow down attempts to find the cures of tomorrow through biomedical research.

I understand that Congress and the Administration are facing a number of budgetary constraints in the current economic environment. But cutting funding for our critical cancer prevention and research programs is not an effective way to fight a disease that costs our country more than $268 Billion annually.

I’m passionate about fighting cancer. The disease killed my Dad in 2009 and is currently trying to kill several of my good friends. Cancer is the leading killer in the world, and 1 in 3 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. 28 million people are living with cancer today.

I urge you to vote NO to HR1.

Thank you for your service to our State and our Country.

Yours most sincerely,

Erik Pearson
Aurora, CO

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Checked Twice

In my last post I described my (mis)adventures of going through the TSA’s enhanced security screening process.  A few hours after I wrote that post, I was selected for scanner screening at the Greater Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG and yes, that’s the full official name of the airport, which is actually located in Kentucky) and flat-out refused, knowing that it would mean a pat-down.  Honestly, I wanted to see how CVG handled the pat-down process.  My verdict: TSA screeners in Cincinnati are some of the nicest, most professional people I’ve ever encountered in all my travels.  Here’s my account.

Prior to leaving for the airport, I changed from my somewhat baggy work clothes to a black snug-fitting blogt-shirt from Mellow Johnny’s and my First Ascent climbing pants, which fit closer to the body than jeans or khakis.

I removed everything from my person except my wedding ring, LIVESTRONG wristband, and my hearing aids, and placed them in a small zippered travel bag I bought Friday over lunch, just for the occasion.

After refusing the backscatter scan, I successfully passed through the metal detector and my bags successfully passed the X-ray process and waited as a 1-stripe male officer (Agent Dollison) approached me putting on those blue gloves.  He and a 2-stripe female supervisor explained the entire pat-down process in detail: how he would use his hands and where he would put them.  Agent Dollison made sure I understood that he would run his hands up my legs to my groin area “until contact is made.”

“Are you OK with a public pat-down?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Are there any areas of your body that are sensitive to touch?”

“My entire body,” I replied.

Agent Dollison laughed and then proceeded with the pat-down, which was done with a gentler touch than the heavy-handed grope I experienced in Denver.  Very professional.  He then walked over to an explosive detection machine, picked up a swab pad, wiped the front and back of both his hands, and put the swab in the machine and started the explosive residue test.

Red lights.  Alarm sounds.  A 3-stripe supervisor comes running over.

Oh crap.

[NOTE:  You can identify a TSA agent’s rank by the number of stripes on his or her epaulets.  1-stripers are the agents most of the public is familiar with, with 2-stripers being the mid-level supervisors that are usually hovering around the edges of airport screening areas.  3-stripers are usually the team leads that oversee the entire scanning operation, and will get involved in a specific screening if there is real reason for concern.]

I’ve tested positive for explosives before, but always on my carry-ons.  The TSA agents usually completely empty my laptop bag and re-swab it, and I always get the green light.  This time, like the others, I expected my bags to be searched.

[NOTE:  After looking back on my past positive explosive tests, I realized that I almost always have bike grease residue on my hands.]

The 3-stripe supervisor informed me that I would be subjected to an even more thorough pat-down search, and that it would be done in a private screening room.  I told him and Agent Dollison that it was fine with me to conduct it in public, as the previous pat-down had been.

“I’m sorry sir, that’s not an option.”

Uh…

At this point I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit nervous.  Agent Dollison’s gloves tested positive for explosive residue, and those gloves had just been all over my body.  Was I going to be asked to strip?  Was my luggage going to be emptied and searched?

A third agent gathered my shoes, suitcase and laptop bag, which had been set off to the side during my pat-down, and I was escorted to a private room just off the screening area.  The brightly-lit screening room was 6 feet by 9 feet, or roughly the size of a jail cell.  A plastic chair was in one corner, a long metal table was against one wall.  An explosive detection machine identical to the one that recorded my positive test moments earlier was on the end of that long table.

The 3-stripe supervisor came in and explained that he was going to conduct a more thorough search, this time including an enhanced groin check.  The pat-down was the same as before, with the addition of the supervisor running his hands left and right across the front of my groin, and then up and down the front of my groin.

Now I can say I’ve had my “junk” felt up, down, inside, outside and sideways by TSA.  But hey, they were polite about it!

Once again, the gloves used during my second pat-down were scanned for explosives, and this time they returned a yellow “inconclusive” result.  The 3 TSA agents said I was free to go.  I thanked them for their professionalism and on my way to the terminal tram, I stopped by the elevated TSA supervisor’s platform and thanked them as well.

All together, it took me 20 minutes to clear security in Cincinnati last Friday, from ID check to being released from the second pat-down.

Truly, the TSA teams in Cincinnati are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Has my position on security screening changed because of my experiences last week?  No.  I disagree with TSA’s attempts to force everyone to go through scanner screening, and the pat-down process isn’t fun, no matter how professionally it’s conducted.

Many of you readers have encouraged me to continue my defiance, others of you want me to just shut up and go through the scanners.

In all journalistic fairness, I’ll go through the scanner tonight so I can get the full experience.

I do have some ideas on how to fix the entire screening process, and I’ll share those with you in my next post.  But here’s a hint:  Abolishing the TSA would be a serious mistake.

It’s Better If You Just Cooperate?

On Monday of this week I had an experience with TSA at DIA eerily similar to John Tyner’s experience in San Diego last weekend. I was one step from entering the metal detector when I was asked to go through the AIT scanners.  I declined because such scanners have previously caused interference with my hearing aids, and I mentioned this to the TSA agents.  I was asked to remove my hearing aids, which I also refused to do, and I successfully proceeded through the metal detector and was told I’d have to receive a pat-down.

TSA would not let me touch my bags until the pat-down was complete.  The agent conducting the pat-down was courteous, but he put his hands inside my shirt and down my pants, in addition to feeling up the front and backs of both legs, making contact with my groin 4 times.  To say that this was a humiliating and degrading experience is an understatement.  The agent did not describe how he was going to conduct the search prior to starting it.  During the search I asked a lot of questions and a TSA supervisor came over and tried to answer my questions.  Again, he was willing to listen and was courteous, but he said I was under scrutiny because I “might be a terrorist.”

I went through 9/11, I was working in Chicago that week and we expected to be hit next.  I remember downtown Chicago being evacuated and the eerie silence each day that week: no planes were flying overhead at all, and at night, very few people ventured out.  I understand the need for increased security.  But in my opinion, the level of security that is in place now, should have been in place following 9/11, not 9 years later.

As a frequent traveler, I’m allowed access to the premier passenger line at DIA (supposedly designed to move passengers to the screening lines faster), but every Monday morning I stand in that line for 45 minutes to just have my ID checked, and then screening usually takes another 15 minutes.

When the CLEAR Registered Traveler Program arrived at DIA 2 years ago I was one of the first to sign up.  Both the TSA and the CLEAR program have a full set of my fingerprints and iris scans, and I have undergone 2 FBI background checks (once for CLEAR, the other 17 years ago during the interview process for a CIA job right after college.)  My identity and background have been vetted as thoroughly as pilots.  The Registered Traveler program can and should be used to expedite demonstrated frequent fliers through the screening processes.

I’ll share more of my experiences in a future post, but for now I have to go catch my flight home.

It’s Not About Boobs

I do not like Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Each year between August and October, the color of Autumn is not the reds, browns and yellows of the changing season, but pink.  Massive breast cancer-themed athletic events are held around the country.  Free mammograms are conducted.  Buddy check programs are promoted on the evening news.  In Denver, many buildings are adorned with giant metal pink ribbons, and many companies use this time of year to promote their partnerships with breast cancer organizations by incorporating the ubiquitous pink ribbon into their corporate logo.

My local stores are blanketed with pink products:  Hats, t-shirts, wristbands, yogurt containers, laundry soaps, coffee, and cereal, to name a few of the myriad items one can buy, with a small percentage of the sales going to breast cancer organizations…pink is prevalent.

Save the “Ta-Ta’s!” one t-shirt proclaims.

Bullshit.

A woman is more than her boobs.  Let’s focus on saving the whole woman.

Breast cancer is but one of the cancers killing women across the United States.  Lung, colorectal and gynecological cancers affect tens of thousands of American women each year.  In the U.S. lung cancer now kills as many women as breast cancer and all gynecological cancers combined.

Yet breast cancer is the “popular” cancer for women, and it gets the majority of the funding and publicity and celebrity involvement, far overshadowing the other cancers.  It’s worth mentioning that breast cancer is not exclusively a woman’s disease.  Statistics for 2009 projected that about 1,910 cases of breast cancer were expected to occur among men, accounting for about 1% of all breast cancers, with approximately 440 men dying from breast cancer.

For women, 2009 statistics predicted 254,600 cases of breast cancer in women, with 40,170 women dying from the disease.

To be completely transparent, I have 2 female friends engaged in active war with breast cancer, both under 40.  My grandmother survived breast cancer, and I have many other friends who are breast cancer survivors.  I’m also a cancer warrior through my work as a fundraiser and global volunteer leader with LIVESTRONG.  Lung cancer killed my dad.  I hate cancer.

The focus and funding currently put forth each year for breast cancer research and awareness would be better spent developing a comprehensive women’s cancer initiative that deals with all cancers targeting women, not just breast cancer.  This would require a unification of the various breast cancer organizations and programs into one unified coalition, something that does not exist today.  Arguably, the yearly spotlight that shines on breast cancer would dim a bit as resources are directed away from that cancer and much needed attention is shifted toward fighting the “other” women’s cancers, but overall the result would be a positive one.

The various forms of cancer have different effects on the human body, and require different forms of treatment, awareness education and advocacy, and different patient support organizations should continue to exist.  Spotlighting one form of cancer over another only serves to weaken the entire war effort against cancer.

The only way cancer—all cancer—will be defeated is through a cohesive public, private and governmental partnership that is focused on cancer in general, not one specific type of cancer.

28 Days of Giving: Fight Cancer, Win Cool Schwag

In honor of the 28 million people living with cancer I’m introducing my 28 Days of Giving fundraising campaign, benefiting LIVESTRONG

On Sunday, October 24 (28 days from now) I’ll join thousands of my fellow cancer warriors for a 90 mile bike ride through the Texas Hill Country as part of the LIVESTRONG Challenge.

For every $5 you donate to my LIVESTRONG account here between now and then, you’ll be entered to win some fabulous prizes, including:

  • A custom writing pen, designed and handcrafted by me. Here are some examples of my previous work: 

 

  • A Team LIVESTRONG bag from the 2009 Challenge series
  • A Team LIVESTRONG jersey from the 2009 Challenge series 
  • A water bottle signed by Chris Charmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach
  • One pound of Major Taylor coffee (ground or whole bean, your choice) from Juan Pelota’s Cafe in Austin.   This is easily my favorite coffee.  Here’s the description, straight from Juan Pelota himself:  “Inspired in equal parts by the bolder roasts popular in the Pacific Northwest, and by one of history’s greatest cyclists—not to mention the first African-American to win a world championship in any sport—Major Taylor is testament to good habits and clean living. Prepare to be inspired.”
  • Other great prizes to be announced
  • Warm fuzzies from knowing you’re doing a great thing

Early Donation Incentive – only until October 1 at midnight MDT
Because I’m a member of Team Fatty, and Fatty himself is having an awesome contest, you have a chance to win a saw-WEET Orbea road bike, easily valued at $10,000.  You can read all the details here on Fatcyclist.com.

Every $5 donated to my LIVESTRONG account gets an entry into the Team Fatty contest.  If I win the bike, you get the bike, it’s as simple as that.  The Team Fatty portion of this contest will be hugely popular, so enter early and often.  If you don’t win the bike, don’t dispair, you’re still entered for the other schwag above.

What are you waiting for? You know you hate cancer as much as I do. Click here to help fight this disease.

THANKS for your support!

Cancer Foundation Bigger Than Armstrong

Below is an op-ed that Jody Schoger and I sent to both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, in response to their various articles about the current cycling doping investigation targeting Lance Armstrong.  Both publications declined to run our article.

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In “A Champion Against Cancer, Now Under Siege,” (The  New York Times, August 21), Bruce Weber and Julie Macur paint perhaps the most realistic picture to-date of the storm currently surrounding Lance Armstrong.

What is minimized in this article – and completely lost in others – is the incredible impact Livestrong has had on the lives of those touched by cancer; the global visibility Livestrong has helped bring to cancer; and the potential damage the current cycling doping investigation may inflict on the foundation.

Photo courtesy Chris Brewer

Mr. Armstrong’s story as a cyclist and testicular cancer survivor is well-known.  Most people are aware of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the cancer fighting organization he founded in l997 following his diagnosis in October, 1996, through the simple yellow wristbands that were unleashed on the eve of the 2004 Tour de France.  Since then, more than 70 million of the $1 yellow bands have been distributed.

As recently as August 4, Mr. Armstrong himself said that he and Livestrong are synonymous.  The step to associate the ubiquitous yellow band to doping, though, is a dangerous one.  Dangerous, because linking Livestrong to the allegations could irreparably harm thirteen years of the most progressive cancer advocacy yet seen in this country.  No one organization has done more to mobilize, engage and motivate individuals affected by cancer than Livestrong.

Early on, Livestrong was one of the first organizations to equate the term “survivor” with empowerment, and many Livestrong staffers are themselves cancer survivors.  Livestrong made it OK to talk openly about cancer.  It gave survivors a place to talk about every kind of cancer and all of its emotional, sexual and spiritual side effects.  What can’t be emphasized enough is its establishment of a survivor culture, a legacy of grassroots cancer-fighting organizations and contributions to the body of knowledge about cancer in two significant areas:  cancer in young adults and cancer from the global perspective.

Perhaps Livestrong’s greatest contribution has been to move the topic of young adult cancer into the public eye.  Young adults from ages 15 through 40 are caught between the worlds of pediatric and adult oncology, and face many long-terms effects from cancer treatment, often at the beginnings of their professional or married lives.  This is the age group most likely to ignore symptoms of, and preventative measures for, cancer.

Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman, already a three-time cancer survivor at 33, was in college when he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time.  He spearheaded the formation of the Livestrong Young Adult Alliance, a coalition of some 170 different organizations around the world that promotes research and advocacy geared towards young adults.  In contrast to all other age groups, survival rates for young adults have not increased since 1975, a key area of concern.

In 2009, Livestrong hosted the Global Cancer Summit in Dublin, Ireland.  On the heels of that summit Livestrong issued “Cancer Stigma and Silence Around the World,” a report calling much-need attention to the stigma cancer carries in developing nations such as Mexico, India and South Africa, and the barriers that stigma presents to treatment in those countries.  Most recently Livestrong co-authored “The Global Economic Cost of Cancer.”  This report was released jointly with the American Cancer Society at the World Cancer Congress in Shenzhen, China, where Mr. Ulman was appointed to a two-year term on the board of directors of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

Among other things, they put on four yearly iterations of the Livestrong Challenge, the Foundation’s signature fundraising event that attracts tens of thousands of participants.  The recent rain-shortened Livestrong Challenge in Philadelphia saw 6,000 participants run a 5K or cycle distances between 10 and 70 miles.  36,000 individual donors contributed over $3 million for Livestrong programs, resources, and initiatives.  The event’s corporate sponsors donated all the operating funds needed to host the event, which means 100% of the money raised will come back to support Livestrong’s mission.

Volumes can be written on how Livestrong helps people every day through its SurvivorCare line, which served more than 9,000 people in 2009.  On Twitter, Sarah Hobbs wrote: “Nine days after losing health coverage I’m told I need a work up to rule out breast cancer.  Thanking God for the Lance Armstrong Foundation that is helping me get the mammogram and ultrasound done.”

Former Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor tweeted, “Recently lost a hugely important person in my life to cancer.  Livestrong was an invaluable resource throughout the fight.”

These and so many others are the stories that don’t make headlines.  The Livestrong team is quite tech savvy in its outreach, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and two iPhone apps to reach an increasingly connected cancer community. The Livestrong.org website has brought together a world of people where support and proper information can be found, and through it, Livestrong has created momentum toward fighting cancer where such energy had not previously existed.

Triggered by allegations from Mr. Armstrong’s former teammate and disgraced 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, and headed by FDA investigator Jeff Novitzky, the inquiry could cause irreparable damage to Livestrong’s mission and outreach.  Who is the winner if this happens?

Ordinary citizens should question the necessity to spend millions of dollars on a sports-related probe during the country’s worse economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Even now, with the nation’s egg supply undergoing massive recalls due to a widespread salmonella outbreak, it seems the FDA is more concerned with tasking its chief investigator to probe cycling chains than to protect the food chain.

Yellow is a color of courage and optimism, for one day finding our way through, past and beyond cancer.  There are 28 million people around the world living with cancer, who could care less about a decade old doping mystery Mr. Novitzky is fixated on solving.  Because of Lance Armstrong, and the team of incredible people who run Livestrong, anyone diagnosed with cancer today can find support, assistance and information immediately, for all types of cancers.  Ask any cancer survivor who Lance Armstrong is and be prepared to sit down and listen, because you will hear his or her story.  That’s what counts.

Besides, quipped one young adult survivor on Twitter, “the yellow wristband is the only thing you can wear in a CT scan.”

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About the Authors:

Erik Pearson is a cancer co-survivor and a Denver-based global volunteer leader with Livestrong.  His father died from lung cancer in 2009 after a three-year fight.

Jody Schoger is a 12-year breast cancer survivor and a Livestrong global volunteer leader, blogger and cyclist. She and her husband, a two-time melanoma survivor, live in The Woodlands, TX. She writes  at http:/womenwcancer.blogspot.com

Fight Cancer, Win a Signed Lance Armstrong Poster

To celebrate the start of the 97th Tour de France, I am pleased to announce a great contest that will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a cause near and dear to my heart.  Graham Watson, legendary photographer of cycling’s most storied event, has graciously donated a signed poster of Lance Armstrong, taken during Stage 16 of the 2004 Tour.  That was the individual time trial (ITT) from Bourg d’Oisans to L’Alpe d’Huez on July 21 ,2004.  As cycling fans know, the 21 hairpin turns of the hors categoire (beyond classification) L’Alpe d’Huez is one of the most difficult and iconic climbs in all of cycling.  Lance was already wearing the Yellow Jersey and would win his 5th Tour de France 4 days later in Paris.

This is a photo of the actual poster you could win.

 

Here’s a close-up of Graham Watson’s signature on the poster:

 

To be entered into the random drawing for this poster, all you have to do is contribute $10 to my LIVESTRONG fundraising account. For every $10 you contribute, you get 1 entry.  The contest runs through the end of the Tour de France, on July 25.  I’ll announce the winner and notify him or her by July 31.  It could be YOU!

Click here to donate and enter:  http://austin2010.livestrong.org/ed

Good Luck, and thank you for your support!