Representative Rosa L. DeLauro: Twenty-nine-year Ovarian Cancer Survivor and Champion for Research

Age: 72New Haven, Connecticut
Rosa DeLauro

In 1986, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Coming face to face with my own mortality was life-changing. But I was fortunate in at least two respects.

First, by chance, my doctor caught the cancer early, in stage 1. I underwent radiation treatment for two-and-a-half months. Throughout the process, I had excellent care.

Second, I worked for Senator Chris Dodd at the time. He told me to take as much time as I needed to recover, that my job was secure, and that his re-election campaign for U.S. Senate would not begin until I returned. (It helped that Senator Dodd was the original author of the Family and Medical Leave Act!) I have now been free of cancer for almost 30 years.

Cancer is a tenacious foe. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We acquire the strength we have overcome.” Every survivor knows that fighting this disease brings out your own innate human resilience. You begin to savor every moment of your life. And you yearn to use that time to make a difference.

In my case, defeating cancer was one of the things that propelled me to seek election to the House of Representatives. I came to Congress in 1991 with the goal of making sure that everyone diagnosed with cancer enjoys the advantages I did.

Above all, that means finding enough money for lifesaving research. I know that I am here today because of two things – the grace of God and the hard work of biomedical researchers. That is why I have made adequately funding the National Institutes of Health one of my top priorities.

Between 1998 and 2003, we doubled the NIH budget. It will always rank as one of my proudest achievements. But unfortunately, NIH funding has fallen behind in recent years. Since 2010, it has seen its annual budget erode by about $3.6 billion in real terms – an 11 percent cut. It is time to raise it again. I have a bill before Congress right now to allow that to happen.

My story also shows the importance of early detection. When we make screenings widely available, death rates plummet. With cancer, the earlier the treatment, the better your chances. We need to give everyone a shot at treatment as early as possible. Earlier this year, I was able to secure language in the budget to stop a new rule that could have limited access to screening for breast cancer.

Finally, we need to allow all cancer sufferers to take time off to recover, just as I did. Thanks to Senator Dodd, most Americans now enjoy family and medical leave. But many cannot afford to take time off unpaid. We should build on Senator Dodd’s legacy by requiring all employers to offer paid family and medical leave. Again, I have a bill that would put this in place.

Each one of us knows someone whose life has been touched by cancer. For example, this year alone, more than 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They deserve the best possible fighting chance against this disease, based on the best information and the latest science. We have it in our power to give them the same advantages I had. Battling cancer with medical science, screenings, and basic compassion should be a priority for every government, and every human being.

View all Cancer Progress Report 2015 Survivors