University junior lobbies for cancer funds in Washington

Langer has been an advocate for research since being diagosed with cancer at 17.

Mike Enright

Jenna Langer still remembers the day she was told she had cancer.

Nearly three years ago, Langer was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of pediatric bone cancer.

“Being 17, I didn’t really know what cancer was,” Langer said. “All I can remember hearing is my mom weeping and that’s what really got me.”

This week, the public relations junior is in Washington, D.C., as part of an American Cancer Society national lobbying event called “Celebration on the Hill.”

While osteosarcoma itself is not that rare of a pediatric disease, the site of Langer’s tumor was. It was in her sphenoid sinus, around her brain and carotid artery.

“My doctor from Mayo (Clinic) had only ever seen my case in one other girl,” Langer said.

Langer serves as the American Cancer Society ambassador for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, volunteers in the pediatric oncology department at University Medical Center, Fairview, and is a member of Colleges Against Cancer, a nationwide student group.

Shannon Guernsey, ACS vice president of governmental relations for the Midwest division, said the event in Washington is meant to get Congress to commit to funding cancer research.

Guernsey said they focus on three specific points: reauthorizing breast and cervical cancer programs, reversing cuts made last year in research and asking Congress to sign a promise to support future research.

In 2005, the Bush administration cut $40 million from the National Cancer Institute’s budget. The institute is the main source of research funding for many research centers across the country.

“This is the first time that NCI has been cut by a president in the last 40 years,” Guernsey said.

The overall institute’s budget for 2006 was $4.7 billion, according to Jennifer McCormick, press secretary for Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minneapolis.

Sabo said funding for the institute is strongly connected to congressional funding given to the National Institutes of Health, which overall has received “significant increases” over the past five or six years.

“If you have very tight discretionary spending caps, as we’ve had the last couple years because of the deficits created by the Bush tax cuts, then you have restricted funding,” Sabo said. “How they break that stale mate I don’t know, because that’s part of the budget problem.”

Sabo said there have been budget cuts to many programs and research funding has fared well compared with other areas.

Mary Sumpmann, University cancer center administrator, said that if Congress were to reinstate the $40 million cut from the National Cancer Institute’s budget, “it would allow us to be progressive and successful in doing cancer research.”

The University is one of 39 cancer research centers in the country reviewed and approved by the institute, Sumpmann said.

“There are only two in Minnesota, one is the ‘U’ and the other is the Mayo Clinic,” she said.

In 2005, the University cancer center received about $100 million in research funding, with more than 90 percent coming from government grants, according to the center’s annual report.

Currently, the cancer center focuses its funding in eight major areas of research, including breast cancer, immunology and prevention methods, among others.

“Those are the areas that we are known for nationally,” Sumpmann said. “So those are sort of our highlight and our focus.”

Langer couldn’t be treated with regular chemotherapy, so doctors used a kind of innovative radiation to kill the tumor.

Langer now has been cancer-free for almost two years, though her tumor is inoperable.

“I consider myself to be in remission,” Langer said. “I’ll never be free of the tumor; it’s still there and they monitor how active the cells are using CAT scans.”

“I’m living proof that cancer research is very important, and that we are making progress,” Langer said.