MONTPELIER —On Thursday, various cancer prevention organizations and volunteers met at the State House for the annual Cancer Action Day in which a five-year cancer plan was launched and accepted.
Over 75 cancer survivors, or attendees, who had some relation to the disease made the event and some even shared their stories with legislators in an effort to urge preventative measures. These include a tobacco control program fund, prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes where traditional tobacco products aren't allowed, and a healthy food procurement standard for all state run cafeterias and vending machines.
"It was wonderful to be able to have all the different survivors there to talk about how we can measureably take action," Bennington representative and last year's keynote speaker Kiah Morris said.
Currently, e-cigarettes are not state regulated except that they're not permitted on any type of school campus and cannot be packed in luggage that will be checked onto a plane, according to American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) Government Relations Director Jill Sudhoff-Guerin. By proposing these specific changes, Sudhoff-Guerin believes cancer can be cured with preventative acts.
The first event happened from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the annual Vermont Comprehensive Cancer Commission meeting took place at the Capital Plaza, which is when the five year plan was launched. After, ACS CAN volunteers read resolutions on the House floor for implementations of the cancer plan.
"I feel like there's been a lack of understanding and connection between the legislature and what this great group is doing in terms of reducing cancer," Sudhoff-Guerin said. "That was the goal of having it be a whole day and two different components."
Sudhoff-Guerin added that the University of Vermont does immense cancer research, but lawmakers may only be aware of their budget and not the findings.
The five year plan "is a guide for cancer control practices across the state" and acts as a roadmap on how to address the disease in the state including prevention, detecting and treatment goals, according to the executive summary. The objectives of the plan involve reducing cancer-related disparities, preventing cancer from occurring or recurring, detecting at early stages, providing support and therapy for those being treated and ensuring the highest quality life for survivors.
ACS CAN volunteer Steph Taylor from Bennington couldn't attend Cancer Action Day, but expected the legislatures would listen to what the volunteers had to say.
"I don't want my kids to have to go through the same things my parents and I did," Taylor said. "I want more for them than others."
Many people in Taylor's life have either died or suffered from the disease including her father from melanoma in 2010, her mother who had colon cancer and then endometrial cancer, her father-in-law who passed away as well as both of her grandparents. Taylor herself had to have surgery a few years back due to precancerous cells. She has four children and is an advocate primarily for them and for others.
"I don't want anyone else to have to go through that," she said. "Getting involved with ACS CAN and Relay for Life is great but putting them together is much more powerful and gives them a voice. The more people that join ACS CAN, the bigger voice we have."
Cancer is the state's number one killer as opposed to other states, which is heart disease. Melanoma, a common form of cancer, has a higher survival rate than others such as pancreatic cancer, which is not diagnosed as often, but has a higher mortality rate, according to the 2016 to 2020 Vermont Cancer Plan Executive Summary that was presented by Harry Chen, health commissioner. Melanoma, prostate and breast cancer, which are typically detected early on, are easier to rid of other cancers. Lung and bronchus cancer in men have a 28 percent mortality rate while women have a 29 percent mortality rate, this being the highest out of breast, colon and rectum, pancreas and ovary or urinary bladder cancer.
Morris emphasized the growing use of e-cigarettes among the youth and how users are getting around the technology of the device to smoke marijuana without detection, even in school, she said.
"Eight, nine and 10-year-olds are using and the messages are not there because the funds are not there," she said. "We have a greater understanding nation wide on the harms of tobacco, but prevention on a meaningful way is not there. When we had full funds, we saw the use of tobacco drop, but there's the last bit that is still struggling and there's more that can be done."
ACS CAN is a nonprofit organization that works to communicate with the state legislature, Congress and the White House. It "empowers regular people to be part of the growing national movement that is fighting back against cancer," according to its website. Since its inception, the group has led 35 states including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico to go smoke-free, imposed a 62 cent increase on federal cigarette tax, helped to regulate U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products and gained funds for research for the National Institutes of Health.
Taylor found out about ACS CAN through Relay for Life. With a $10 minimum membership fee, she receives emails about what's going on in the government pertaining to cancer issues. Whatever email's she gets, she forwards to two more friends to spread awareness.
"You can speak to your politicians and let them know what you're talking about and tell them how you want them to respond," she said. "With relay, its a great community thing, but with ACS CAN, you're able to speak to your legislators."
For more information on these initiatives visit www.acscan.org.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.