U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7, and members of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network joined together at the Steeplechase Cancer Center Wednesday to celebrate the passing of a new law to help develop better treatments and possible cures for the deadliest cancers.
Lance was one of the main sponsors of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, along with California Representative Anna Eshoo, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama Jan. 2.
Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, said the bill received 295 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 59 in the Senate.
"The law is aimed at developing better treatments and hopefully cures for recalcitrant cancers," Lance said. "It was these advocates [from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network] who brought it to my attention that not enough is being done for the deadliest forms of cancer."
"I said I would fight for that," he added.
The new law, which Lance helped developed as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, requires the National Cancer Institute to develop a long-term plan for creating better treatments and possible cures for the deadliest known forms of cancer, including pancreatic and lung cancers.
"The researchers will bring everything together to treat the forms that are the deadliest," he said. "We remain steadfast in our commitment to help those afflicted."
Former Basking Ridge resident at presentation
Also present at the presentation was San Diego resident Stu Rickerson, who was born in Plainfield and grew up in Basking Ridge. As a Princeton University alum, he was in town for some events there, but said he could not pass up the chance to be present for the celebration of the new law.
"You don't know how many hurdles there were to get an obvious bill passed into law," said Rickerson, who serves on the national board for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Rickerson is also a pancreatic cancer survivor, having been diagnosed eight years ago after going to the hospital with symptoms that were completely unrelated.
"We know so little about the disease," Rickerson said. "I still get examined annually for a re-occurrence, and you can't go through treatment without some side effects."
"But it is great to be alive," he added.
Lisa Niemi Swayze, wife of actor Patrick Swayze, who died from pancreatic cancer, was a part of the presentation. She serves as the chief ambassador of hope for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
"I was so honored to be among all these people," she said after the presentation of being part of rallies in Washington D.C. in support of the law. "They came from all over the country with such generous and open hearts. It was an honor to walk with them."
Michael Weinstein, of Millburn, also spoke before the assembled representatives at the cancer center, himself a seven-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. But, he said, that is very rare.
"Fifty percent of those diagnosed die in six months," said Weinstein, the advocacy coordinator with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Northern New Jersey. "Only 6 percent survive five years or longer. I'm one of the lucky ones."
Weinstein underwent a year of chemotherapy after his diagnosis seven years ago, only to find out that he had been treated for the wrong cell type. He then had another round of chemotherapy for the correct type, but did not respond to it.
Weinstein later underwent surgery, and was cancer-free for four-and-a-half years, but he said some spots have reappeared.
"You are never truly cured," he said after the presentation.
Still, as a member of the network and a survivor, Weinstein said he is proud to be part of the celebration honoring the passage of the new law. In 2009, he said, he began his position with the network, and works to bring awareness to the public and, more so, to elected officials who can make changes.
"It is gratifying to be here today, and that my home congressman is the lead sponsor of the bill," he said.
Weinstein said he was in Washington D.C. two years ago for the introduction of the bill.
"To culminate that with the passage is exciting and heartfelt," he said.
About two years ago, Rickerson said, he was asked to join the board, and he works with other members to make sure they stay true to their mission.
"It is great to help because the organization was so helpful to my wife and I when I got sick," he said. "It is the only one dealing with the issues so comprehensively."
Rickerson said he was proud to be at the presentation and see this bill become a law.
"This is a great hurdle we got over, and now it is behind us," he said. "We galvanized the volunteer base, and now instead of asking Congress to support the bill, we get to say thank you."
"It is time to recognize this significant step that provides thousands with hope," he added. "If we make a breakthrough in any area, it will tilt the tragic trajectory of the disease."
The passage of the law, Swayze said, is a step in the right direction and just the first piece of all the work that must be done.
"I see this as we have a foot in the door that we didn't have before," she said. "[The members of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network] are not resting on any laurels, and they are not above holding people's feet to the fire."
"The strides forward cannot come soon enough," she added.