Washington — For Brigham Young University basketball coach Dave Rose, the formula is pretty straightforward: Money equals more cancer research and more cancer research equals hope.
When he first learned he had a form of pancreatic cancer a year and a half ago, hope meant everything.
Now post surgery and with a clean bill of health, Rose joined hundreds of other cancer survivors Tuesday to press Congress for a big boost in research funding through the National Institutes of Health.
“This is new to me,” Rose said. “I don’t think I’ve ever asked anybody for a billion dollars before.”
Lobbying may be new to Rose, but it’s not for breast cancer survivors Sylvia Rickard, of Sandy, and Jacqueline Freshwater, of Brigham City, who were among the group of Utahns who accompanied Rose as he met with the state’s federal officeholders.
They asked Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and others to vote for a budget that would send an additional $1 billion to the NIH and another $600 million in new research funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite the sputtering economy and concerns about debt.
“We need to continue the fight, not give up the fight, just because we are in an economic downturn,” Freshwater said.
The budget has stalled in Congress, but the main proposals in the House and Senate include the increased cancer research funding. Hatch has been a constant critic of the Democratic spending plan, but he supports the cash for cancer research.
“I believe we have to continue to make efforts here,” he said. And the senator appreciated his visit with Rose.
“He was a great advocate for cancer research,” Hatch said. “He takes it very seriously since he has suffered from this awful scourge.”
Rose was among the four college basketball coaches and about 600 volunteers with the American Cancer Society who packed a Senate hearing room and jammed a hallway to kick off their day of lobbying. Along with Rose, Boston College’s Steve Donahue, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and University of Illinois’ Bruce Weber participated in the event associated with the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign.
The rally also included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., saying the new health reform law would protect cancer patients from being denied coverage because of a pre-exiting condition or because they hit a cap on their benefits, but more needs to be done.
“It is a lot cheaper to cure it, than it is to keep treating it,” she said.
The energized gathering of blue-shirted volunteers became emotional as the coaches told of how cancer robbed them of family members, past teammates and players, reaching a high when Rose described his own diagnosis.
He told the gathering how he fell ill on a flight and needed 10 units of blood before he was rushed into surgery where they found a cancerous tumor.
“My wife was talking to our surgeon at the time. She was kind of hysterical and she was trying to explain to him how we have to save her husband,” Rose said. “He got a tear in his eye and said ‘We can do this.’”
The surgeon’s wife had died of a brain tumor just four months earlier.
Rose said he took comfort and strength from interacting with doctors who were well informed about his treatable form of cancer, saying they benefited from research funding approved through Congress a generation ago.
“I want to be the guy who helps the next person, maybe 10 years from now,” he said. “You just want them to have hope that their situation can turn out like mine has.”