BOISE, Idaho — Cancer advocates sent a strong message of hope to everyone in Boise on Saturday as they rallied to get more funding for cancer research. Volunteers joined together to try and spread hope to those who are fighting cancer or those who have lost a loved one to it.
“"As a cancer survivor, I am giving hope to others. That cancer is survivable,” Shea Neely said.
Neely got involved with this work because she is a survivor. She just hit her 30-year mark after being diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 15. She and other advocates with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network were rallying for the funding because of how crucial it is to do research on the disease.
The volunteers spent a couple hours on Saturday setting up ‘Lights of Hope’ bags on the Capitol steps. The bags were arranged in a way where they spelled out the word ‘hope’ in large letters. The letters were large enough to see from several blocks away when looking north on Capitol Boulevard.
"These bags represent people that we've lost because either they couldn't get access to treatment or there wasn’t enough funding for their particular form of cancer. There wasn't research behind it, maybe it’s a rare cancer," Neely said.
That’s something the American Cancer Society wants to change moving forward.
“While we have increased our cancer research funding, it hasn’t increased at the same capacity that the cost of the supplies to do the research has,” Idaho Grassroots Manager for the American Cancer Society Mary Kemp said.
ACS picked the word hope because of the impact the word cancer has on someone when they hear they have it for the first time.
"Without hope, it becomes pretty bleak, so this is the thing we want to inspire in everyone who is in the middle of a battle with cancer,” Kemp said.
The goal of this is to get more funding for cancer research. That funding leads to the type of research Dr. Greg Hampikian is doing at Boise State University.
"I couldn't keep my lab running for a year on my own without support,” he said. “So, the Cancer Action Network is actually really important, it’s a grassroots effort to explain to the Legislature how important cancer research and care is for a large part of our community.”
ACS said Dr. Hampikian has helped discover two new cancer killing drugs through his research. He hasn’t advanced to clinical trials at this point, but he says the early results so far have been promising.
"These very small protein drugs that we've made that don't exist in nature have been effective against human tumors that we've grown in the lab, donated tissue,” he said. “Now we've gone into mice and have our initial studies on breast cancer and it's very promising, so we will see.”
The bags on Capitol steps each represent either a survivor or someone who lost their battle with cancer. Kemp said these stories are important to tell to show lawmakers the type of battles people go through.
“Perhaps our greatest tool is our voice and our personal story,” she said. “Everyone’s personal story with cancer is very different.”
The bags will be going off to Washington, D.C. next month. On September 10, people from every state across the country will be in the nation’s capital lobbying for more cancer research funding. Kemp said there was 30,000 bags there last year.
Kemp said the organization's lobbying efforts have been successful in recent years.
"For the past three years at least, every time we've gone in they say yes and increased the funding," she said. "We don't have small asks this year, we are asking for a $2.5 billion increase."
If you want to donate to the ACS, you can click on this link here.