Joe Biden’s Moonshot Needs More than $2 Billion

Timing, as they say, is everything. Last week I published a blog post – Is It Time to Rethink Our Approach to Cancer Treatment? – hours before President Obama’s state of the union address. During that address, the president announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a new initiative to end cancer.

board-939244_1920Listening to the State of the Union address last week I wondered how President Obama would use this speech to influence his legacy. He made a number of points that we’d expect to hear supporting children, families, and the middle class. And then, from out of the blue (at least from my non-inner-circle perspective), he announced that the vice president would be taking charge of an initiative to end cancer: a new initiative in the Obama administration that was first introduced by the Nixon administration.

This appointment by President Obama was actually quite logical since the vice president had apparently called for a moonshot three months ago to cure cancer. It’s also a sentimental appointment on the heels of the death of Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, who lost his life to brain cancer last year.

This appointment came as no surprise to the vice president, who published a blog post following the SOTU and shared it via twitter. The blog shared the vice president’s plans to “accelerate our efforts to progress towards a cure.” He also indicated he wanted to hear from people if cancer had touched their lives. The vice president then went on to let us know that he intends to do two things:

1.) Increase resources — both private and public — to fight cancer.

2.) Break down silos and bring all the cancer fighters together — to work together, share information, and end cancer as we know it.

And that is when I sighed a heavy sigh. A sigh of cynicism, a sigh of sadness, a sigh of defeat. It sounds to me as though we are taking the same approach to dealing with cancer we’ve always taken. Now, simply because we’ve elevated the desire to deal with this disease we expect the same action to produce a different result.

Why, I wondered, were we continuing down the same road? The road of pouring seemingly endless amounts of money down a seemingly endless black hole? Increasing resources in my mind translates to more cash for the pharmaceutical companies. That might make sense to me if the results to date indicated this would be a promising route to take. Unfortunately, in 2015 cancer diagnoses in the US were expected top 1.5 million and cancer deaths were on track to surpass 500,000. It really makes me shake my head to think that $2 billion will be invested in the same fashion – more research conducted by the same people who have had access to billions upon billions of dollars in the past.

Is the vice president asking what will happen if we:

Explore the unconventional?

Invest in the science-based complementary treatments serving cancer patients so well?

Focus on at prevention?

Take a look at some “anecdotal” evidence?

Don’t invest $2 billion in research?

Since I’m not in the inner circle, I can’t say that these questions aren’t being asked. I’d be surprised, though, if discussion of any of these questions is on the agenda.

So…what did I do with my sighs of cynicism, sadness, and defeat? I let them take up a few moments of my time. Then I responded to the vice president’s request for information from anyone whose life had been touched by cancer by:

Leaving a response on his blog post.

Referencing his moonshot in a tweet or two.

Sending him a message via the White House website.

So far, no response. No worries. I’m off to write Vice President a note. After all, this moonshot could do us all a world of good if a few assumptions are kicked to the curb. My advice to the vice president is simple:

Be bold.

Be brave.

Ask difficult questions.

About Deb

Deb Nelson, principal of deb nelson consulting, is a creative storyteller. She designs and implements communication plans that leverage strategic partnerships and provide innovative solutions for her clients. You can find her on twitter at @nelliedeb.


  1. You ask great questions about cancer. I am so fed up with the years of the same approach. Keep writing to Joe.

  2. I can’t voice an opinion about the US governments approach to cancer. Up here, not so much in Canada, but were I am locally, we have cancer treatment centres that do things much differently. I wish we had those doctors and support systems when my father was diagnosed.

    The powers that be have to understand.. you can’t expect a different outcome if you keep doing the same thing over and over again.
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  3. I know way too many people who are affected by Cancer. I’m looking forward to the day when more natural treatments are really looked at and not just thought of as being “alternative”. I think with a combination of utilizing what is already provided by nature as well as education around returning to the Earth’s goodness in addition to some promising medications, we can make leaps and bounds to eradicate this awful disease.
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  4. Hi Deb 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with this post and how important it is to be brave and speak up and ask questions!!
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  5. The only small glimmer of hope I saw in what VP Biden committed to is in this: “Break down silos and bring all the cancer fighters together — to work together, share information, and end cancer as we know it.”. What if those of us who are anti the medical establishment as the only route, saw that as an opening to do exactly what you are doing. To “interpret” it as asking for input from a wider range of people who have been touched by cancer and have gone an alternative route. A call to all the alternative healers who have something very valuable to contribute to the “fight” against cancer.

    Maybe I am seeing this with my rose-coloured glass optimism, however, one can hope and then take action the way you are, Deb. Maybe someone could start a petition on one of the petitions sites and then see how many people they can rally to support a new way of looking at the cancer issue. Those petitions are hugely successful and my thinking is you would garner a lot of people who would be willing to sign it in the name of upheaval to the current way cancer is handled in the world. Thanks for sharing and please know I am with you 1000%!
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  6. Thank you for this post – I don’t pay much attention to politics, though I probably should pay a little more. It does seem that we are wasting more money on things that don’t work. When my mom was diagnosed, I almost wanted her to go to one of those Cancer Centers of America to get a more holistic treatment than what her doctors were giving her. She had the best doctors here where we lived, and the best hospital in our region – it still was not enough. It’s difficult. I’ve seen successes with cancer and I’ve seen a lot of loss. I hope Joe Biden does listen to those who are writing him – and please continue to do so! He should listen to those who are going through it or went through it. I know my step sister wrote to our congressmen/women and state legislatures to get her mom’s cancer drug costs down. The costs are outrageous. She wrote and sent her mom’s picture to bring out the human side of her story. She got some relief. Thank you for sharing.
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  7. This is quite a touchy topic for me because I have lost SO MANY loved ones to cancer. I have watched them battle to stay strong for us. I pray for a cure. This country has invested in other causes that have gone nowhere fast. Thank you for this thought provoking post.
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    • It is a touchy topic, Sharise – so many of us have lost family and friends to cancer. Sometimes we need to do more than invest more money; we need to look and listen to how our past efforts have paid off (or not). I think this is one of those times – broadening the group of people whose opinions and science we bring together.

  8. Imagine what we could do if we would break the silos, but that isn’t going to happen when a lot of money is at stake. It sounds good in theory, but there is power and $$ involved. Sorry I am cynical but it isn’t going to happen.
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    • Your cynicism is well-founded Karen. Sadly, with so much money at stake, people forget about what those funds should be used for: finding a cure, relieving distress. Instead, billions continues to be funneled to the same people making money off of this disease. AND – what if there’s already a cure that we’re ignoring?

  9. Congrats on speaking up, Deb. It’s the first step – be the change you want to see in the world.
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  10. Cancer is such a difficult issue because so there are so many variables. But, I can say when my husband was going through treatment for pancreatic cancer, he received the best possible care. When the nurse told his he had to stop taking vitamins, he refused. When the doctor couldn’t figure out why he was responding so well and was an atypical patient, he corrected the nurse and all patients are now allowed to continue their vitamin regimen. But, I agree Big Pharma is really controlling research, and a total cure is not in their best interests.

    • Good for you and your husband for doing what you knew was best. I agree that there are so many variables with cancer – the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t seem to work well, as you and your husband witnessed first hand. Congrats to you for encouraging your husband to be an atypical patient!!

  11. I applaud your efforts to bring the idea of doing something new to the war on cancer. I certainly hope that your messages get through to the vice president and make him think of what innovation could possibly do in finding a cure and helping cancer sufferers. Thank you for brining your ideas to our attention too.

    • Innovation is key here – and doesn’t necessarily mean more harsh drugs. I hope the vice president gets people with a variety of backgrounds together to look at a wider view of treatment.

  12. Thank you for keeping this need in the forefront. We can solve this problem. And it is also very much about lifestyle, food (non chemical laden food and water) and non chemical laden skin care products and household items, etc. Until the governments makes a mass effort to stop this we need to be super conscious of the choices we make.

    • Agree 100% with your assessment, Teresa. We have the ability to solve this one need to be diligent. While I wish the government were paying attention to the points you make, we can’t let that stop us from sharing info as it becomes available.

  13. Well… it’s sad because they are just pushing the issue because he should… and not putting the time and effort into it like you mentioned… we can pour time and money into ‘resources’ until we are blue in the face… cancer has been around… let’s step outside of the box.
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