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Mavericks & Lions Wanted: Remembering Senators John McCain & Ted Kennedy and America’s Stake in the Fight Against Glioblastoma

Published on August 25, 2019 in In the Community, Take Action

One year ago today, Senator John McCain passed away following 13 months of treatment for the brain cancer, glioblastoma. And 10-years ago to the day, McCain’s friend and former colleague in the U.S. Senate, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, succumbed to the very same disease.

Fewer than 10% of glioblastoma patients survive past five years of an initial diagnosis, with most living less than a year. Despite advances in many other cancers, survival rates are getting worse for brain cancer patients, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer from the National Cancer Institute, CDC, and others. In fact, in the 10 years since Sen. Kennedy’s passing, very little progress has been made toward extending glioblastoma survival rates, despite great advances in understanding the underlying disease.

Today, we remember both these remarkable public servants, as well as all others who have been touched by glioblastoma, while urging that we seize this moment as a tipping point to generate greater progress against this disease.

(L-R): NBTS CEO, David Arons; Acting Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Ned Sharpless; U.S. Senator Martha McSally; and Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Doug Lowy, at the Inaugural Glioblastoma Awareness Day Congressional Reception

As their respective epithets reveal, Senators McCain (“The Maverick”) and Kennedy (“The Lion of the Senate”) were much respected by their contemporaries for tenacity, commitment to ideals, and service to the American public. In a recent show of unity, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution (S.Res. 245) that established July 17, 2019 as “Glioblastoma Awareness Day.” Senator Lindsey Graham, who called both men friends and colleagues, led the effort and recruited Majority Leader Mitch McConnell along with a bipartisan group of four senators representing McCain and Kennedy’s former delegations of Arizona and Massachusetts, respectively. This inaugural Glioblastoma Awareness Day brought leading medical practitioners, advocates, patients, and caregivers alike to Washington to honor patients, recognize scientific progress, and commit to the pursuit of medicines that manage and cure this disease.

Yet, resolutions calling for awareness are only as impactful as the action they provoke. We offer that by drawing on the very qualities that made Sen. McCain “The Maverick” and Sen. Kennedy “The Lion of the Senate,” we can identify principles that will set the course to eradicate the disease that has taken these and so many other American lives.

Senator McCain earned the maverick moniker for his willingness to lead on ideals, even if that misaligned him with his party. Combating the disease that claimed his life will take hardy and visionary individuals and organizations to blaze new paths and disrupt the status quo to achieve medical breakthroughs. 

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s penchant to cross party lines and form coalitions of “strange bedfellows” garnered him the “Lion of the Senate” title. Similarly, to succeed against GBM, collaborations among research labs, medical providers, and industry champions will be critical. 

In this spirit, we are proud to report that the inaugural Glioblastoma Awareness Day sparked advocacy and action, proliferating on traditional and social media, as well as in the halls of Congress. July 17 marked a new beginning of our heightened awareness-raising efforts, and we are excited to leverage this strong foundation for an annual commemoration that will continue to draw attention to the urgent need to conquer glioblastoma.  

To those of you who supported and participated in the first Glioblastoma Awareness Day – thank you. Your efforts play a crucial role in promoting understanding and garnering resources to accelerate research. To those of you who may be learning about GBM for the first time – we invite you to join us on our journey in curing this merciless disease. GBM Awareness Day was designed to be dismantled. With your smart minds, big hearts, and a dose of ingenuity, our goal is to claim victory sooner rather than later. 

John McCain showed what can be accomplished with sheer fortitude and a commitment to the service of others; and Ted Kennedy, that magnificent achievements are rooted in forming alliances, even if they are atypical. Their principles can serve as lessons for the brain tumor community, and all Americans, today. 

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