Congressman Leonard Lance

Representing the 7th District of New Jersey

Courier News: New law targets the deadliest of cancers

Feb 22, 2013

The Courier News
February 20, 2013
New law targets the deadliest of cancers
Feb 20, 2013   |  

SOMERVILLE — Amid a sea of purple in support of those touched by pancreatic cancer, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., proved that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner as he celebrated the passage of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act. Lance, who co-authored the new law with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., wants it to give meaningful hope to the many thousands who have been touched by the deadliest of diseases.


“Anna and I worked together to push this important piece of legislation through,” said Lance, who acknowledged that often Washington does not work in a bipartisan capacity. “This is a wonderful day. This is a day of bipartisan cooperation. New Jersey and California. East Coast and West Coast. Republican and Democrat. This is how Congress should work. This is how the United States should work.”

The event Wednesday at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center commended the work of Lance, Eshoo and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who introduced the bill with Lance two years ago. While the effort was a long and arduous, Lance noted that was not because of political differences. A member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, Lance said the members of both parties worked together to bring attention and legislative support to the deadliest diseases.

“Four years ago, these advocates made clear that there was not enough being done in the public and private sectors when it came to these diseases,” said Lance, who at age 12 lost his mother to cancer. “So much more could and should be done. Through this fight we fought together, we made sure they will receive the recognition they deserve.”

One of the leading advocates in Congress in the fight against recalcitrant cancers, Lance remains committed to the cause.

“It was an uphill fight, but together we all joined forces to fight and got the job done,” he added. “While we still don’t know the cause or cure of many cancers, we remain steadfast in our commitment to helping those afflicted with it fight it. I am honored to have helped enact this important new law that will hopefully mean a brighter future for patients suffering from recalcitrant cancers and their families.”

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of only 6 percent.

Calling the law “a fantastic accomplishment,” Stuart Rickerson, who was raised in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards, is an eight-year survivor of pancreatic cancer.
“Representative Lance accomplished this is a bipartisan way in a particularly contentious congressional session,” said Rickerson, a national board member of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PANCAN. “The whole process gives hope to the tens of thousands of Americans and their families and loved ones who are affected by this disease. This is a watershed day for the pancreatic cancer community. It provides hope for the patients and caregivers.”


Noting that the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is a very challenging diagnosis, Rickerson and Michael Weinstein, a seven-year survivor, feel they were very fortunate.
At the time of his diagnosis in 2005, Weinstein there was no early detection for pancreatic cancer.


“Seven years later, it is still true today,” said Weinstein, who resides in Millburn. “Regarding this disease, 50 percent died within six months of diagnosis. Twenty-five percent within one year. Only 6 percent lived five years or longer. That is still true today. In 40 years of statistics from the National Cancer Institute, that number has not changed. I am one of the lucky ones.”

As a result of the law, these cancers will now be more dedicated focus for the National Cancer Institute. Signed into law on Jan. 2 by President Barack Obama, Lance said the new law is simple.

“The National Cancer Institute will develop a long term strategic plan,” he said. “There will be working groups of federal and nonfederal entities involved. And some of the deadliest diseases will now have the attention they deserve. It is a common-sense approach and a major step in the right direction.”

“The passage of the law offers the first step in hope for a change for the future,” Weinstein said.

Lance, along with officials at Steeplechase Cancer Center and PANCAN, held the news conference to discuss the new law. Lance was also joined by Lisa Niemi Swayze, the chief ambassador of hope for PANCAN and wife of the late actor Patrick Swayze, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2009.

Swayze, who Lance called “one of the fiercest pancreatic cancer advocates in the county,” said her husband would be proud of her work.

“He would be saying, ‘You go girl,’ ” she said. “Really, this law should not have been passed. We were told that disease-specific bills do not survive. There is no money for that. And that Congress does not get along. But they did for this. Through everybody’s efforts, we got our foot in the door.”

Swayze called Wednesday’s recognition of the law’s passage “a happy day.”

“My husband fought courageously against pancreatic cancer before passing away 22 months after his diagnosis,” Swayze said. “While pancreatic cancer may have taken him in the end, it never beat him. And for me, just because he’s gone doesn’t mean this fight is over. I am proud to have continued his battle against pancreatic cancer, and being a part of this important victory means everything.

“I have been incredibly honored to work side by side with so many dedicated and passionate pancreatic cancer advocates, and I know that Patrick would be proud, too, that he was a part of this fight, one that is going to change the outcome for so many future generations,” she added.

Calling it a day of hope, Todd Cohen, of Edison, an avid advocate and PANCAN member, said the goal now becomes to “double the survival rate to 12 percent by 2020.”

“Twelve percent is still not acceptable,” said Cohen, who was a founding member of PANCAN’s Northern New Jersey Affiliate. “We have gotten the bill passed into law, and that was years in the making, but there is still so much more to be done. We will hopefully see early detection methods be effective and a cure for pancreatic cancer.”

“I lost my father on July 2, 2002,” added Cohen, who, like his fellow advocates aim to make the color purple as known for pancreatic cancer as the color pink is for breast cancer. “At that time, I did not know much about the disease. I knew Michael Landon had it. But, after knowing what my father went through, I knew I had to do something. This is an avenue to make a difference.”

Cohen also noted that the push for awareness and research attention for recalcitrant diseases does not come from the survivors as much as it comes from those left behind.
“A big issue is that there are not many survivors,” he said. “We depend of family and friends to continue to fight and advocate for a cure.”


Deborah Spigner, of Metuchen, agreed, having lost her husband, well-known WCTC radio personality Bernard Spigner, six years ago. Now raising their only child alone, Spigner said her husband died of the disease just three months after his diagnosis.

“I continue to care and make a difference for my son because when he grows up, I want him to have a better chance,” she said. “I felt a responsibility to do it, and it is so rewarding to see today we made a difference.”

Julie Fleshman, president and chief executive officer of PANCAN, lost her father to pancreatic cancer when he was 52 years old.

“The adoption of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act is a historic victory in the fight against deadly cancer — particularly pancreatic cancer — as it is the first legislation designed specifically with the disease in mind.” Fleshman said. “This legislation provides hope for pancreatic cancer patients and their loved ones. Today we celebrate this important step, but we do so while honoring the memory of so many people whose lives were cut short by pancreatic cancer.”

During the event, Lance was recognized by Fleshman and PANCAN for his national leadership on the issue and was presented with the Congressional Champion of Hope Award.
“He has raised the national visibility of this disease,” she said. “Now we work to get the law implemented.”