The Honorable Ted Poe: Raising Awareness in Congress about the Value of Biomedical Research

Age: 69U.S. Representative Texas’s 2nd Congressional District

Two years ago, my life, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt. All because of one word. Cancer. Since my diagnosis with leukemia, I have become much more aware of the impressive progress that we are making in the fight against cancer in the United States. Through my own cancer journey, I have also learned that our current efforts to fight this disease are not enough; we must do more. Many people are never really “cured” from cancer. The federal government has an important role to play in funding the research that will lead to new, more effective treatments and make our nation healthier.

My diagnosis with leukemia came in July 2016. I was participating in the Fourth of July parade in my hometown of Houston, Texas, when I realized how awful I felt. After the parade was over, one of my staffers tried to persuade me to go over to the local hospital. I was not having any of it. Instead, I boarded my flight and flew right back to Washington, D.C.”business as usual. However, when I arrived at the Capitol, I had to stop in the middle of the street I was trying to cross. I just couldn’t make it all the way. Something was wrong. I turned around and went to Georgetown University Hospital.

The doctors at the hospital immediately began running test after test after test. Thinking I just had a bug, I returned to Capitol Hill and continued working. Later that day, the doctor called. I was to return to the hospital immediately. When I walked in, they sat me down and told me that they were diagnosing me with leukemia. I was shocked. I had no idea I was that sick.

I had heard of leukemia, but I only had a general understanding of the disease. But the doctors at Georgetown were amazing. They patiently explained my diagnosis and advised me to return home to Houston. After all, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is one of the top cancer treatment facilities in the world. Before I could fly home, I had to have a platelet transfusion. I was in bad shape. The lifespan of platelets is very short, so I am very grateful to the three donors who came to the hospital that night and donated the platelets I needed. I’ll never know their names or their faces, but they helped save my life that night.

The next morning, I boarded a plane to Houston and was immediately admitted to MD Anderson. After several long weeks as an inpatient, I was discharged and able to continue my treatment as an outpatient. The most important part of my cancer treatment is attitude and my faith in the Almighty. Staying positive is half the battle. In Congress, you have to be present to vote. So, we decided that I would continue my outpatient treatment at Georgetown University Hospital. I would continue serving the people of Texas as I received treatment. My treatment is still ongoing, but the leukemia is under control. I cannot thank the Good Lord and my doctors at MD Anderson and Georgetown University enough. The doctors who treat cancer patients are so well trained and passionate that I have full confidence that they will one day cure cancer.

During my treatment, I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of cancer patients. Cancer affects everyone, the very young, the very old, and everyone in between. Each of these individuals had a profound effect on me. The conversations taught me a lot about the successes and challenges of cancer treatment. What I learned, together with my own experiences, led me to work with Congressman Mark DeSaulnier to establish the bipartisan Congressional Cancer Survivors Caucus.

The Caucus’s goal is to bring together members of Congress affected by cancer to discuss how we can work together for a future with even more individuals who wear the badge of survivor. One of the ways we can accelerate the pace of progress and make our society healthier is through adequate federal funding for research.

Money spent on research is money well spent. This is a message that I share with my colleagues in Congress. Most members are very open to hearing my message and learning how federal funding for research has made the fight against cancer possible. An increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health is pivotal to putting an end to cancer. Increasing awareness will ensure that Congress continues to make funding for research a priority.

And that’s just the way it is.