We Are Living With Brain Cancer. Here’s How Biden Could Help Us.
Like Beau Biden, we have glioblastoma. It doesn’t get the attention it should.
By Jessica Morris and Jana Bennett, Aug. 22, 2020
If Joe Biden reaches the White House, he will have more direct experience with cancer than most presidents. His eldest son, Beau Biden, died in 2015, at 46 from glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of primary brain cancer. Glioblastoma is deadly — median survival from time of diagnosis is only 14 months — and notoriously difficult to treat.
We, too, are both living with glioblastoma, Jessica for the last four years and Jana for the last year and a half.
In many ways it is the poor relation of cancers. Where there have recently been significant advances in treatments of many other cancers — targeted therapies, advances in immunotherapy and a better understanding of the genetic makeup of tumors — glioblastoma treatment is lagging behind.
But in our work encouraging research for this cancer, we believe that real advances in glioblastoma treatment will advance cancer care as a whole. By empowering patients like us, working closely with top minds in the neuro-oncology community and pushing for much greater focus on this cancer, we can advance treatments and care, which, in turn, may have huge benefits for people affected by other cancers.
If Mr. Biden wins the election we hope he will be able to double down on his longstanding commitment to advancing cancer care. After his son’s death, Mr. Biden became heavily involved in the fight against cancer. As vice president, he headed the Obama White House Cancer Moonshot Program, intended to accelerate the search for a cure.
And once out of office, he established the Biden Cancer Initiative, a nonprofit offshoot of the Moonshot program, to establish research and treatment partnerships across the health care industry. But Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, stepped down from the board in 2019 before he announced his bid for the White House, and the organization’s activities were suspended shortly afterward.
As president, Mr. Biden would have an opportunity to reset the health care debate in the United States. Yes, we need to resolve how to ensure all Americans have access to affordable health care, especially during the pandemic, but we also need to ensure that real energy, resources and renewed focus are given to advancing treatment of the most intractable and often neglected cancers.
The last decade has had extraordinary advances in innovative cancer care, with new drugs and personalized treatment, but for most people with glioblastoma, these therapies are unavailable.
Time is precious for all people living with glioblastoma and their families (like ours), when extending survival and improving quality of life are urgent everyday concerns. For every American who wants to see medical progress that will benefit the more than 12,000 people in the United States who learn each year that they have glioblastoma and the many thousands of others around the world whose lives have been turned upside down by this terrible disease, 2021 could be the year not just of a new presidency, but also of a New Year resolution to beat glioblastoma.
Jessica Morris is founder and chair of OurBrainBank. Jana Bennett is trustee of OurBrainBank, a nonexecutive director of the Pew Research Center and a former president of the History Channel.