President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and first lady Jill Biden all spoke of their personal experience with cancer during Wednesday’s announcement that the White House would relaunch the Cancer Moonshot program.
The Bidens lost their eldest son Beau to brain cancer in 2015. Harris’ mother Shyamala, a breast cancer researcher, died of colon cancer in 2009.
The goal of the administration is to reduce the death rate from the disease by at least 50 per cent over the next 25 years and to ‘end cancer as we know it’ – the careful way all of them phrased the issue.
Biden began his remarks by recognizing the oncologist that treated Beau for glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
‘See that doctor on the end there. That’s the man who spent 18 months trying to save our son’s life. Doctor, I love you. The whole family loves you,’ the president said.
Beau Biden was 46 when he died. Thursday would have been his 53rd birthday.
In his call to arms, President Biden framed cancer as a disease that touches everyone, including Republicans and Democrats. He recognized the bipartisan group of lawmakers and the cancer researchers, advocates and patients in the East Room for the event.
‘Every one of you have a story. And our message today is this. We can do this. I promise you we can do this for all those we lost. All those we miss. We can end cancer as we know it,’ Biden said.
The president showed his passion for the issue, raising his voice at some points, and, at others, leaning on the program to whisper into the microphone as a way to emphasize his point.
President Joe Biden began the relaunch of his Cancer Moonshot program by recognizing the doctor that treated Beau for glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer; Beau died in 2015
First lady Jill Biden hugs Vice President Kamala Harris during Wednesday’s event as President Joe Biden looks on
President Joe Biden; Dr. Edjah Nduom, Associate Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Emory University School of Medicine; Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at the Cancer Moonshot relaunch
Jill Biden also mentioned the family’s loss, saying it stole ‘joy’ from the Bidens.
‘Cancer changes everyone it touches. And in some ways, it touches us all. For Joe and me it has stolen our joy. It left us broken in our grief. But through that pain, we found purpose. Straightening our fortitude for this fight – to end cancer as we know it,’ she said.
And Harris paid tribute to her mother, Gopalan Shyamala.
‘After a lifetime working to end cancer, cancer ended my mother’s life. I will never forget the day that she sat my sister and me down and told us she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. It was one of the worst days of my life and an experience that sadly, millions and millions of people in our country have had,’ the vice president said.
She praised her mother’s work.
Shyamala’s research led to advancements in the knowledge of hormones pertaining to breast cancer.
‘My mother’s discoveries helped save women’s lives. And I am so proud that she brought our nation and our world closer to the goal of ending breast cancer as we know it,’ she noted.
‘I watched her courageous fight. But after countless rounds of chemo, her body gave out. She was transferred from the hospital to hospice. And in fact one of the last questions she asked the hospice nurse was are my daughters going to be okay. I miss my mother every day. And I carry her memory with me wherever I go,’ Harris said.
President Joe Biden framed cancer as a disease that touches everyone, including Republicans and Democrats
Jill Biden puts a comforting hand on President Biden’s arm during the event
Vice President Kamala Harris hands Jill Biden her reading glasses after the first lady introduced her at the Cancer Moonshot event
Members of President Biden’s Cabinet and staff at the Cancer Moonshot event
Cancer is a deeply personal issue for Joe and Jill Biden, who lost their eldest son Beau to brain cancer in 2015; above the Bidens with Beau and Beau’s wife Hallie in 2012
The administration kicked off their goal to cut cancer’s death rate by issuing a call to action to jumpstart cancer screenings that were missed out during the COVID pandemic.
The White House believes increased screenings and removing inequities in treatment can help cut the death rate from cancer.
There were more than 9.5 million missed cancer screenings in the United States as a result of the COVID pandemic, according to the White House.
In addition to prevention, the administration will focus on impoving the quality of treatment and people’s lives during their illness.
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 1,918,030 new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer deaths this year, meaning that Biden is essentially trying to save 300,000 lives annually from the disease.
Biden has long pushed to end cancer – a call he has repeated throughout his time as president.
Last year, during a visit to a COVID vaccine manufacturing facility in Michigan, Biden said: ‘I want you to know that, once we beat COVID, we’re going to do everything we can to end cancer as we know it.’
As vice president, Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot during the Obama administration in 2016. It was an enterprise he carried over into his private life after he left the vice presidential mansion by launching the Biden Cancer Initiative. That initiative closed in 2019 after Biden announced he was running for president.
In 2016, when Biden announced he wasn’t seeking the Democratic nomination for president, he said he regretted it because ‘I would have wanted to have been the president who ended cancer, because it’s possible.’
Congress provided $1.8 billion for the Cancer Moonshot program in 2016 but little of that money is left, only about $400 million.
No new funding was announced on Wednesday.
But a senior administration official, on the briefing call with reporters on Tuesday, said the White House is ‘very confident that there will be robust funding going forward,’ arguing that few issues garner as much bipartisan support as cancer research.
Vice President Kamala Harris lost her mother Shyamala, a breast cancer researcher, of colon cancer in 2009; the two are seen above in 2007
As vice president, Joe Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot during the Obama administration in 2016 (above)
Jill Biden is likely to play a major role in the initiative. The first lady will have ‘some leadership role,’ a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters, adding there will be ‘more to come’ on that.
Her first public outing as first lady was to highlight services for cancer patients at Whitman-Walker Health, a clinic in Washington D.C., in January 2021.
In her remarks on Wednesday, Jill Biden noted she has lost four friends to breast cancer even as she paid tribute to her loved ones in the audience.
‘So many friends here. It’s so nice to see all of you. And you’re getting me so emotional before I have to speak about cancer,’ she said.
She has been an advocate for breast cancer research since the early 1990s, when one of her friends was diagnosised with the disease. She told ABC News last year – during breast cancer awareness month – that she got a mammogram her first month living in the White House and urged women to schedule their own.
As part of his administration’s effort, Biden will have a White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator in the Executive Office of the President, he will form a ‘Cancer Cabinet’ composed of 18 federal agencies, and he will host a White House Cancer Moonshot Summit.