Ethel Ricci, as outlined in an article that ran in last Tuesday’s Beacon, has lost so many loved ones to cancer that she has taken her fight against the disease to Washington D.C. twice in order to share her story and advocate for lawmakers to realize the importance of funding cancer research and prevention methods.
Ricci was in the conference room of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) office on Jefferson Boulevard this past Friday, arriving back in Rhode Island from the nation’s capital on Wednesday, with her husband, Joe, and Cori Chandler, RI Grassroots Manager for ACSCAN, when Cori got a message that President Donald Trump had officially signed into law a Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill package that included $2 billion in additional funding for cancer research.
“I feel like we were part of that, and that I did something,” Ricci, who has lost her father, brother, brother-in-law, niece and sister to various cancers, said of the funding increase. “It’s better than just sitting around and being really sad.”
The funding increase includes a total of $6.1 billion increase to the National Cancer Institute, of which $2 billion will be specifically used for medical research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provides grants to hospitals, medical universities and research institutions in order to conduct cancer-related research.
“Congress should be commended for recognizing the importance of increased medical research funding at the NIH and NCI,” said ACSCAN president Chris Hansen in a statement. “This $2 billion NIH increase is essential to keeping up the pace of progress in cancer prevention, detection and treatment. This kind of consistent, year-over-year funding increase ensures research started in one budget year can continue into the next and promising developments can move from the lab to the patient as quickly as possible.”
Prior to the increase, funding for NIH had fallen well short of the rate of inflation since funding was reduced in 2005. Funding for NIH bottomed out as a result of the recession in 2013, and has only recently started to be restored. The bill passed by Congress last week marks the first time that a spending package for LHHS has been approved prior to the start of the new federal fiscal year (which began Sept. 30) since 1996.
It was fitting that the bill would pass the day after Ricci and her fellow ACSCAN volunteers met with legislators from around the country as part of their annual lobbying efforts, and a couple of days after the huge Lights of Hope demonstration that saw 33,000 decorated bags light up around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honoring the memories of loved ones who had passed away due to cancer and cancer-related illnesses.
“We hear so much about what goes on in the news, but it’s pretty much business as usual for them down there. They’re very busy and they’re doing their job. It’s not like we think it is with all the stuff we see on TV,” Ricci said of meeting with Rhode Island lawmakers. “They’re working for us, as far as I can see. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Ricci said it is important for regular citizens to voice their experiences to politicians so that they never forget the importance of issues facing their constituents.
“The big thing about this is the stories,” she said. “We all share stories when we meet with the lawmakers. I’ve shared stories of how I’ve lost family members and what they went through. It’s so important for them to hear that and to know. Many of them have gone through it themselves and have cancer in their families, but how these issues affect real people is what they need to hear.”
While Ricci’s story has been filled with sorrow and loss, she has found the will to become a voice for her lost loved ones and all who are going through similarly trying times as she has gone through. She takes big inspiration from her beloved sister, who she lost in 2015.
“They can’t speak up and say ‘This shouldn’t have happened to me,’” she said. “My sister did all the right things. She went to the doctor all the time. She had colonoscopies and endoscopies. She had an endoscopy and seven months later she found out she had stage four cancer. How does that even happen? That still makes me crazy. It’s not fair, and that’s what made me angry. And so here I am.”
Ricci implored people to come to the volunteer summit at the ACSCAN office, located at 931 Jefferson Blvd, Suite 3004 in Warwick, on Saturday Oct. 27, to see how they can help the cause. “It’s not a big thing or a lot of time or very difficult.”
In addition to advocating for more volunteers to join the organization, ACSCAN also launched a new domain for their website, FightCancer.org, which links to events, news about cancer research and ways to get involved in your area. The news of the funding increase, of course, has been well received by those involved with the organization.
“The United States government is the largest funder for cancer research, and the American Cancer Society is the second,” Ricci said. “It’s important to get this research funded, and this funding can make a big difference. It’s what we need.”