Be a part of the Vice President's "Moonshot" Against Cancer

by Michael Holtz

Cancer Moon ShotI

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet.

"For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make American the country that cures cancer one and for all."

He echoed Vice President Joe Biden, who several months ago called for a "moonshot" to cure cancer. Biden lost his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

In an opinion piece for, Biden wrote: "And the goal of this initiative -- this 'moonshot'-- is to seize this moment. To accelerate our offers to progress towards a cure, and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases.

"It's an audacious idea, and it was one of the few moments during the State of the Union address when the president received a standing ovation from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. On behalf of cancer survivors, their families and anyone cancer has touched, I am grateful that the disease people are most afraid of is getting this level of attention.

Still, the challenges are immense. Congress and our nation have never been more divided. But the moonshot idea has one very important thing going for it: cancer is non-partisan. Cancer doesn't care whether you are Democrat, Republican, Independent, Communist or Green. It doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor, well-educated or not. Cancer impacts all of us.

That's why it has never been more important that we, the people, the cancer advocates, make our voices heard. We need to seize this moment to tell our lawmakers to continue to make federal funding for medical research a top priority. By making our voices heard (more about the specifics shortly), cancer advocates scored a huge victory when the biggest funding increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in more than a decade was approved by Congress.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) played a key role in that victory and, I have to tell you, they make becoming an advocate so easy. 

ACS CAN is the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, and advocates work hard to make cancer a legislative priority at the federal, state and local level. It's important work that saves lives. Some of the issues we work on include increased cancer research funding, smoke-free workplace policies, better access to care and improved quality of life for cancer patients and their families. 

I have the incredible privilege of serving as ACS CAN's Tennessee State Lead Ambassador, which is a fancy way of saying I'm the lead volunteer advocate in my state. I work with an amazing group of volunteers, called Ambassador Constituent Team (ACT) Leads, each of whom represents one of Tennessee's Congressional districts. Every state and every Congressional District across the country is represented by an advocate, which makes for an incredible scene when all of us descend on Capitol Hill for our annual Advocacy Leadership Summit and Lobby Day in September. The ACT Leads, in turn, have a team of volunteers they work within their districts.                                                       Image1

Michael Holtz with Rep. John Duncan at ACS CAN Lobby Day

Each of us brings to the organization our experience as a cancer survivor, caregiver or supporter. We, in turn, are girded with incredible support by amazing and committed state and national staff partners who help us understand legislation, plan tactics, prepare to talk to the media and schedule meetings with lawmakers.

Making your voice heard is as easy as clicking a couple of buttons on your computer or mobile device. ACS CAN ( makes it that simple. When you become a member (for as little as $10 a year), you'll receive action alerts anytime a piece of cancer-related legislation needs your attention. Click a button and a message to your lawmakers appears. You have the option of adding a few words about how the policy in question impacts you personally or simply clicking a button to shoot an email out to your lawmakers. 

Boom! You just became an advocate and raised your voice in the fight against cancer. Of course, you can always get more involved, and ACS CAN makes that easy too.

Does it make a difference? I guarantee it does and I've seen it first hand.

The funding increase for NIH I mentioned earlier was the direct result of cancer advocates making their voices heard. In March 2015, ACS CAN and Stand Up to Cancer launched the OneDegree Project ( with the goal of increasing federal funding for cancer research. The name of the project reminds all of us that we know a family member, friend or co-worker who has been touched by cancer. In other words, we are all one degree from the disease. 

One Degree launched on St. Patrick's Day with a star-studded event on Capitol Hill featuring Marcia Cross, Pierce Brosnan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and every one of ACS CAN's state lead ambassadors. We met with lawmakers or their designated staff member to share our One Degree stories and to ask that they support increased funding for cancer research.    Image2

Advocates holding the #OneDegree petition banner outside the federal courthouse in Knoxville during a press conference in support of increased cancer research funding.

In addition to sharing my story of being a three-year survivor of stage-3b rectal cancer, I also share the story of my One Degree, a dear friend who has survived two bouts with cancer. He supported me during my cancer experience and has taught me a great deal about embracing life since treatment ended. Throughout the year I had the opportunity to share our stories often, as there was a lot of activity around the campaign.

In May, my dear friend Belinda, who recently passed away from ovarian cancer, and I staffed a One Degree tent at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Metro Knox. Dozens of people signed a banner that was later delivered to Sen. Lamar Alexander's office. Sen. Alexander is chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, also known as the HELP Committee, and plays a pivotal role in the budget appropriations process.      Image4

Advocate signing the #OneDegree petition banner during a Tennessee Smokies baseball game.

Later that month, at a Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball game, my wife, a friend, other advocates and I asked more people to sign the banner. My Congressman, Rep. John Duncan, Jr., was with his family at the game, so I used the opportunity to talk to him about our effort.

In September, I organized a press conference with a handful of advocates to deliver to both of Tennessee's senators copies of the more than 2,400 One Degree petitions that had been signed by people across the state who support increased funding for cancer research. ACS CAN's Lobby Day took place later that month, where more than 800 people clad in ACS CAN blue polo shirts swarmed Capitol Hill to make the case for funding and other issues.   Image5

Michael Holtz speaking to a reporter during the #OneDegree campaign launch event on Capitol Hill.

In the end, cancer advocates were victorious, and I'm proud that both of my senators voted in favor of the appropriations bill. 

Still, the funding increase for NIH is only a beginning. We need to marshall our resources to bring about cancer's end. It's going to take a "moonshot," and we need every voice we can get raised in support.

Cancer is the diagnosis most everyone fears getting. Together, we can rise up and defeat it.

Do you have a cancer experience to share? The Whitehouse would like to hear it, click here to be a part of the Moonshot Against Cancer

Our Guest Blog Post today is from Michael Holtz, a WhatNexter, stage IIIb Colon Cancer Survivor, Author of "It's Not Harder Than Cancer", and advocate for all cancer patients and he is ACS CAN's Tennessee State Lead Ambassador. 

You can connect with Michael here:

WhatNext Profile

Facebook Page "It's Not Harder Than Cancer"

Website - Michael Holtz Online

Not Harder Than Cancer Book

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