Cancer survivors ask U.S. senator to support more funding for cancer research

OKLAHOMA CITY - Advocates for cancer research and cancer survivors are asking a local U.S. senator to support more funding for cancer research.

Released earlier this year, a White House budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 included a $7.2 billion cut for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) along with a $1.2 billion cut for cancer research funded at the National Cancer Institute.

Advocates in Oklahoma are calling for U.S. Sen. James Lankford to "be a leader in the Senate" by rejecting the cuts and instead increase funding at the NIH by $2 billion.

"It’s so important for the people that we serve in Oklahoma with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and people across the country that we serve that we have that 2 billion extra dollars of cancer research funding but also that we don’t have that cut," said Justin Wood, Government Relations Director at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network for Oklahoma.

Tarah Warren said research conducted during clinical trails is what saved her life after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Her diagnosis came when she was just 29 years old.

"I saw my oncologist and telling me everything I was going to face and experience but, really, all I could think was… I’m 29 years old, I’m newly married, I’m in my last semester of graduate school and I’m going to die," Warren said.

It was a similar experience for Edmond resident Becky Faaborg, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011. She participated in phase one of a clinical trial.

"I picked myself up after my first diagnosis. I ran my first half marathon with cancer. I ran my 17th half marathon with cancer in Tulsa in 2016. I’m going to run my next one without cancer… [the] Oklahoma City half marathon next April," Faaborg said. "I don’t want anyone else to hear those words, 'you have cancer'. I’ve heard that twice. I really don’t want to hear it again."

On Wednesday, cancer survivors delivered hundreds of signatures from residents across the state to Lankford's office, asking for more funding for cancer research.

News 4 spoke to Lankford about the issue on Wednesday. He said he has met with the director of NIH, adding they have been working on increasing funds for the past several years.

According to Lankford, the proposed budget submitted earlier this year will likely not pass in Congress as written. In fact, he expects funding for NIH to increase.

"Every year since 1974, the president has submitted a budget, and not a single year since 1974 has that budget been accepted by Congress. It won’t be this year either. The president’s budget is simply a set of ideas, but it’s not the actual final budget document," Lankford said.

Dr. Robert Mannel, director of the Stephenson Cancer Center, said a $2 billion increase in funding for the NIH would be a life saver.

"That comes at a cost, yes, but that cost returns to us in the health of our society, lives saved, curing cancer... which, otherwise, wouldn't have happened," Mannel said.