The Star-Ledger

Gov. Chris Christie Wrong To Make Cancer A Political Football

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, May 6, 2014

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
Phyllis Salowe-Kaye

My family, like nearly every other family in New Jersey, has been touched by cancer. My mother had lung cancer, my father had bladder cancer and my husband of almost 40 years has leukemia.

In 1985, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer usually found in the extremities of black males over 50. I was a 38-year-old white woman, and the malignant fibrosarcoma was growing in my head. Then, in 1998, I got breast cancer from a completely different tumor.

So, in our house, we definitely care about cancer research. But we're not unique, as this issue is personal for everyone. That's why Gov. Chris Christie's disgraceful $10 million budget cut to New Jersey's leading cancer research organization isn't just offensive; it's outrageous.

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey is dedicated to improving the prevention, detection, treatment and care of patients. It is keenly focused on transforming laboratory discoveries into clinical practice and real-world results. Kenneth Adler, a hematologist/oncologist at Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, is chairman of CINJ's Cancer Commission. He's also my doctor. So while all of New Jersey benefits from CINJ, I can also speak from a more personal vantage point.

Adler has guided me through multiple surgeries, endless rounds of chemotherapy and extensive radiation. I've also participated in some experimental and alternative treatments of which Adler was aware. (For over a year I carried a small hammer in my purse to crack my Tibetan herbs). Fortunate to be considered a breast cancer "survivor" and with the tumor in my head growing oh-so-slowly, I am now left to deal with the side effects of the aggressive life-saving treatment I received.

With access to the state's premier research facility — our only nationally recognized comprehensive cancer center — doctors throughout New Jersey are able to provide cutting-edge treatment. In a state with America's seventh-highest cancer rate, Christie's perverse budget cut isn't just a line item on a ledger. This move is a devastating blow for cancer patients throughout New Jersey and their families, not to mention future generations who could benefit from this research.

Christie places blame for his callous cancer cut at the feet of people like social workers who protect abused and neglected children. They end up with a $40,000-a-year pension, of which their own contributions will have paid more than half.

Christie blames police and firefighters, yet neglects to mention these first-responders aren't in the Social Security system. Many firefighters end up with long-term illness and receive no Social Security benefits. However, Christie sees fit to blame a neglected public worker pension system for making him place individuals, families and life-saving programs in harm's way.

If he truly wants to find blame for the $10 million stolen from cancer research, Christie should simply look in the mirror. He doled out tax cuts for the rich and expensive corporate giveaways. He wasted more than $12 million on an unnecessary special election last October. Christie's held 120 self-serving town hall meetings at taxpayer expense. And we're only at the beginning of bloated legal fees defending unconscionable behavior surrounding Bridgegate, followed by at least $1 million wasted on his lawyer's whitewash report. Tens of millions of dollars that could be put to better use.

So, when it comes to slashing cancer research while shifting blame, we must not allow Christie to wiggle off the hook. We cannot afford more wrong priorities that set our state back, and the continued castigation of others in a desperate bid to deflect criticism.

And when it comes to cancer research, hopefully with doctors like Kenneth Adler and cutting-edge research provided by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, we can continue delivering the care our state needs and deserves.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye is executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

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