THE 112TH Boston Marathon is a grand tradition I am proud to take part in for the first time this year. I'm running with 50 LIVE-STRONG team members to raise funds for the fight against cancer, another grand tradition that has strong roots in Boston.
While Americans have grown used to seeing the definition of progress in Iraq debated daily on a glaring national stage, few of our leaders seek to shine a spotlight on the war against the number-one killer of Americans under the age of 85. It is an old, forgotten fight and we're rarely told about the toll it takes on our nation.
But cancer now affects the life of every single person in this country. Who among us hasn't either personally battled this disease or supported a loved one through their fight?
Cancer will take nearly 600,000 American lives in 2008, and 1.4 million will get the dreaded diagnosis from their doctor. Deaths are shamefully high among minorities and the poor. They die because of lack of access to the most fundamental human necessity - healthcare. One of the leading cancer specialists in America, Dr. Harold Freeman, says there's a disconnect between what we know and what we do. We know how to defeat the enemy. We just don't do it.
So what is the situation report from the front lines? Twelve million of us - including Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston - have been touched by the enemy and bear the scars to prove it. In the early days of the current struggle in Iraq, many of us were shocked by reports that soldiers lacked the basic body armor and vehicles necessary for the theater in which they fought. Back home, we have the equipment and treatment to save lives but, outrageously, they usually don't make it to the people who need them.
Now, what is our government's victory plan?
After six years on the President's Cancer Panel, I can say with reasonable certainty that there isn't one. Few of our leaders, with the exception of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, are still devoted to this fight. And to be fair, cancer is one of many causes competing for resources and attention in Washington.
Still, you'd expect the number one killer of Americans under 85 to merit more outrage, more opposition, more resources. But funding for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health is static or declining in recent years. There is no central command, no general who looks over the broad spectrum of this disease and is able to deploy resources where they will save lives and advance this fight. A pessimist would say that cancer is winning. Luckily, I'm not one.
The good news is, now more than ever, we have an opportunity to change things. We are about to elect a new president, and now - before the election, while the candidates are still making promises to win our vote - is the time when we can hold them accountable for the war on cancer. Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain have all been affected by this disease, either personally or through the death of a loved one. Let's ask them how they intend to defeat the enemy, what steps they'll take against tobacco, the number-one cause of cancer, and how they'll ensure all of us - not just star athletes and politicians - have a healthcare system that rolls out the red carpet when we need it.
While I am merely a humble guest in your city, I have seen how the fight goes here in Boston. On Friday, I was honored to be invited to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Lance Armstrong Foundation Adult Survivorship Clinic there. Dana Farber has been serving this community's cancer survivors for more than 60 years and, like the Boston Marathon, is a proud institution that helps make this city a beacon for the rest of the nation. They know what works and they do it for more than 200,000 cancer survivors every year. If Boston can do it, why not the rest of this nation?
Lance Armstrong is founder and chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a seven-time Tour de France champion, and a cancer survivor.