By Guest Writer - September 24, 2019
For researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center, federal funding is critical. The cancer center is the recipient of more than $46 million in grant funding. This funding drives vitally important research that can lead to new cancer treatments and ways to improve quality of life for patients.
To help emphasize the importance of federal funding, the American Association for Cancer Research holds its annual Rally for Medical Research. More than 350 partner organizations, like Moffitt, travel to Washington, D.C. to urge members of Congress to make funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a national priority.
This year, two Moffitt researchers made the trip. Drs. Claire Conley and Bishwas Shrestha provide a behind the scenes view into the experience.
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 6 p.m.: We arrive at the Capitol and make our way to one of the many buildings that house offices for the members of congress. The Rally for Medical Research kicks off with a reception, including speeches from several members of congress and Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) speaks passionately about her time on the appropriations committee and her commitment to supporting the NIH. Rep. DeLauro shares that she has personally benefited from medical research, as a 33-year survivor of ovarian cancer. As Chair of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, she continues to lead Congress in regard to NIH funding. In fact, DeLauro recently recommended a $2 billion increase for NIH in fiscal year 2020.
We also hear from Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), whose district includes the NIH campus. Raskin speaks about the impact that NIH funding has had on the life of his niece, who has cystic fibrosis.
The panel of speakers is rounded out by Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Representative Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), staunch supporters of NIH funding. You can tell that the representatives in attendance really appreciate the importance of continued NIH funding. It makes us much more confident for our appointments the next day.
Finally, Dr. Francis Collins reiterates the importance of our efforts tomorrow. He especially notes how important this issue is to early career researchers, like Claire and Bishwas, who are the future of medical research.
Thursday, Sept. 19, 7:45 a.m.: We are up bright and early for the Hill Day Kick-off Breakfast. As we sip coffee, we get a pep talk from Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.). His tips for convincing elected officials to support NIH funding? “Tell the Democrats that they should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Tell the Republicans that they should do it because it’s the smart thing to do.” Cole reminds us that NIH funding isn’t just good for our health, it’s good for the economy, too.
8:30 a.m.: Along with the 300 other Rally participants, we head across the street to the steps of the Carnegie Library. The first Rally for Medical Research took place on these steps in 2013. Now in its seventh year, we return to that same location for the annual group photo.
9:30 a.m.: It’s finally time to head to the capitol and get started with our advocacy activities. Our trusty guide for the day is John DeMuro, Moffitt’s Federal Legislative Affairs Director. He has over 10 years of experience on Capitol Hill, and definitely knows his way around – thank goodness, we would probably have gotten lost otherwise.
We join up with two other advocates from Florida, representing the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Together, we get started on our whirlwind tour of meetings with Florida’s elected officials.
10:30 a.m.: Our first meeting of the day is with a staff member from Senator Rick Scott’s office. We highlight the innovative research and breakthrough treatments that are being developed at Moffitt – like chimeric antigen T-cell therapy (CAR T).
11:15 a.m.: Next, we meet with a staff member from Representative Charlie Crist’s office. Crist, who is the former Governor of Florida and calls St. Petersburg home, is very familiar with Moffitt. We discuss the cancer center’s community outreach and engagement activities, as well as the benefit of cancer prevention on population health.
11:55 a.m.: Break for lunch. The cafeteria at the Capitol is bustling. It’s very interesting to see all of the other advocacy groups that are represented here. The Alzheimer’s Association, in particular, has a lot of advocates present.
1:30 p.m.: Meet with a staff member from Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office. Castor is a BIG supporter of Moffitt, and loves meeting the researchers, but she was called away to vote right when we were supposed to meet. It just shows you how busy things are when Congress is in session.
2:10 p.m.: En route to our next meeting, we see Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) hailing a cab. You never know who you’re going to run into when you’re on Capitol Hill.
2:30 p.m.: This meeting is a little different. We sit down with Laura Friedel, staff director of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Friedel has worked with the U.S. Senate Appropriations committee for over 8 years, and she really knows her stuff. She asked extremely thoughtful questions about the impact of NIH funding on our research and our career trajectories.
3:30 p.m.: Our last meeting of the day is with a staff member from Representative Ross Spano’s office. Spano’s district begins in Temple Terrace but spans all the way east to Lakeland and north toward Ocala. As much of Spano’s district is rural, we spend some time discussing access to care issues and urban-rural health disparities.
4:05 p.m.: We’re done with our day on the Hill. All told, we logged five meetings with our elected officials and 13,971 steps.
Want to learn more about the Rally for Medical Research? Visit rallyformedicalresearch.org