When the American Lung Association's LUNG FORCE initiative first issued the Women's Lung Health Barometer in 2014, we were startled to learn that only 1 percent of women listed lung cancer, the leading cancer killer of women, as a top-of-mind health concern.

LUNG FORCE Heroes, lung cancer patients and their caregivers or loved ones, are the bedrock of our movement. We learned that by sharing their stories, we could change how people perceive what it means to live with lung cancer and bring a stronger awareness to the disease.

And since 2016, I have been honored to stand with LUNG FORCE Heroes as they fight on behalf of all those whose lives have been impacted by lung cancer during our annual LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Together, our efforts have helped make significant gains in lung cancer policy and research funding including:

  • Medicare coverage of lung cancer screening for the approximately eight million adults at high risk for lung cancer.
  • A 37 percent increase in lung cancer research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since launching LUNG FORCE.

While we have seen rapid advancements in lung cancer treatment and early detection, far too many people are still dying from lung cancer. Every year more than 234,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer, and only 16 percent of these people are diagnosed at an early stage when the disease is more curable.

Last week, during our third annual Advocacy Day, LUNG FORCE Heroes from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia met with their senators and representatives to ask for their support of $38.1 billion for the NIH in fiscal year 2019 so there can be better treatments and improved methods of early detection for lung cancer.

We also asked members of Congress to contact the Department of Health and Human Services and ask that a proposal that would harm patients with pre-existing conditions be stopped. This proposal, which would allow more short-term "junk" plans to be sold in state healthcare marketplaces and would undermine affordable, accessible and adequate healthcare for everyone, including people living with lung disease and lung cancer.

In total, LUNG FORCE Heroes made 197 visits to members of Congress this year, forging critical connections that will help ensure that those impacted by lung cancer will have a voice in Washington. By advocating for $2 billion more in research funding at the NIH for fiscal year 2019, we hope to build on the 13 new therapies that were approved by the FDA in the last two years and improve lung cancer survival rates.

And, thanks to the ongoing work of all our LUNG FORCE Heroes and supporters, Congress recently approved an additional $3 billion for the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2018.

Throughout the Advocacy event, I was so pleased to meet LUNG FORCE Heroes like Rachael, a former member of the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team. At age 31, Rachael was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Rachael told us that her representative was so affected by her story that he will be sharing her experience in upcoming meetings about quality, affordable healthcare. She is even training for a marathon this spring, which is truly inspirational.

During the event, we also heard from leading lung cancer researchers and medical experts, including Jorge Gomez, M.D., of Mount Sinai and Jonathan Whetstine, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital. Through a special Facebook live event for Advocacy Day attendees and LUNG FORCE supporters, Drs. Gomez and Whetstine discussed recent advances in lung cancer research and treatment options.

It's not too late to amplify the efforts of LUNG FORCE Heroes who raised their voices on Capitol Hill. Please visit LUNGFORCE.org and contact your senators and representative about the need to support lifesaving research at the National Institutes of Health and protect patients with pre-existing conditions by passing bipartisan healthcare legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets.

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