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Lance Armstrong: Patience running thin with D.C.

By Lance Armstrong
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Lance Armstrong, one of cycling's all-time greats and possibly the world's best known cancer survivor, founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation with the goal of inspiring and empowering people with cancer. He now campaigns for more government funds for cancer research and treatment.

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- I'm not known for my patience. Patience is a polite quality and often appropriate, but it rarely gets things done. Impatience, however, is the hunger for results and intolerance for excuses and delays. Impatience got me over countless mountain passes, across the finish line in New York City and through four rounds of ruthless chemotherapy 10 years ago.

Yet this election season I patiently waited to hear a candidate for office explain to constituents what he or she planned to do about one of the leading threats to the health and well-being of all Americans -- cancer. My patience was greeted with silence.

Cancer will impact one in two men and one in three women in their lifetime. It is devastating and it is pervasive. In fact, every year 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer. (Visit a CNN special, "Saving Your Life" )

Thankfully, our country has made tremendous progress in this fight and produced remarkable advances in the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Today, in many cases, we can humbly say that cancer is no longer a death sentence. The medical advances achieved by our nation's best doctors and researchers have given us reasons to hope.

But in spite of this vast body of knowledge, 1,500 people will die from cancer today and tomorrow and the day after that, often because the care they needed to prevent cancer or survive it was not available to them. (Watch cancer survivors describe their ordeal Video)

However, our nation's second-leading killer did not make the list of issues that our candidates used to get people to the polls last November. Anyone with a television or access to a newspaper can list the ballot box issues that occupied our candidates' attention -- they range from bickering to very real concerns and challenges.

The political ads didn't tell voters that earlier in the year funding for cancer research was cut for the first time in 30 years. Nor did they explain that a lack of funding slows the pace of scientific discovery and the development of treatments. Our candidates did not mention the decrease in funding for programs that provide information and screening to people who need these services. I think this is unwise, but it is what our government has done this past year. I waited patiently for an explanation, some clarification or justification. Ten million cancer survivors deserve an answer. We didn't get one.

It is true that state and federal budgets are constrained by many important responsibilities. But cancer doesn't care about that.

It is time to hold our leaders accountable. It remains to be seen if the change in power on Capitol Hill will affect the fight against cancer. In two years we will elect a new president. We cannot predict the actions of any of our elected officials, but we can say for sure that when it comes to cancer their silence is unacceptable.

Patient people may accept the status quo, but the status quo isn't working for us. Instead, we need to stubbornly hold our leaders accountable and we need the courage to ask tough questions of our elected officials. Few issues facing our government are more personal or more critical than the health of our citizens. What are we going to do to effectively fight cancer? Millions of Americans with cancer are asking.

I'm not known for my patience. When it comes to cancer, I hope you aren't either.

What is your take on this commentary? Do you have a cancer story to tell? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. This is part of an occasional series of commentaries on that offers a broad range of perspectives, thoughts and points of view.

Your responses asked readers for their thoughts on this commentary. We received a lot of excellent responses. Below you will find a small selection of those e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling.

Grant Campbell, Mesquite, Texas
I would like to express my thanks to CNN bringing this issue to the forefront. Within the last 2 months, I have had my uncle, who did smoke during his life and who is in his mid 80s, diagnosed with lung cancer. Due to his age and how much it had advanced before he was diagnosed with it, there is nothing that can be done to save him. About two weeks after learning about him, I found out that a friend of over 29 years who did not smoke, drink or do drugs in his life, was diagnosed with lung cancer as well. He is 41 years old. ...These are just two examples of how this disease can strike without much warning. It can strike young and old, smokers and non smokers alike. ... My hope is that our elected officials can come together to get more financial support for cancer research.

Mary Renner, Springfield, Illinois
Bravo, Lance!!

John Scott, Phoenix, Arizona
How many overpaid politicians will it take to die of cancer for them to make prevention and treatment of this disease a priority? As long as it does not affect them or drive their poll numbers, they will not care. Save your breath, Lance, they are not listening.

Pat Wright, Denmark, Iowa
I, too, am a cancer survivor. Only my cancer was discovered March 2006. I figure each day I'm alive, I'm a survivor! I know that if I had not had medical insurance through my work, I would not be alive today. I am a widow and could not have afforded the high cost of treatment on my own! I do believe the federal government has not taken enough action on cancer care -- or health care in general.

Linda, Cincinnati, Ohio
While I appreciate Mr. Armstrong's support in the fight against cancer, if he is that impatient, I suggest he and his rich friends finance the finding of a cure.

Robin Schotter, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania
Thank God a celebrity finally stood up and called attention to the horrendous cuts scientific research has endured under the Bush administration. We are wasting billions each week in Iraq while letting scientific standards depreciate here in the United States. ... Thank you, Mr. Armstrong, for shining some light on an important issue which has been placed on the back-burner for far too long.

Katy Allgeyer, Los Angeles, California
Dear Lance, Until there is no longer big money to be made off of cancer ... there will not be incentive to find a cure. We live in a world where it pays to keep people sick. This is the real reason there hasn't been any real advancement in cures for disease -- only "management" of diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and others.

Robin Hall, Dillon, Colorado
Brilliant. Fight on, Lance!

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