Six hundred advocates from across the nation representing the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network recently traveled to Washington D.C. to urge members of Congress to support legislation and policies that have the potential to improve quality of life and prevent suffering for cancer patients.
Among those 600 was Holly Walpole of Zionsville, an associate director at UnitedHealth Group and adjunct professor at the Indiana Institute of Technology.
“I worked for Medicaid and Medicare contractors for about 20 years, so I’m very interested in helping people who are underserved, helping with health equity issues and bridging the gap of people who don’t have coverage,“ Walpole said. “I decided to use my expertise and what I’m familiar with and leverage it to something that I was passionate about, which is helping cancer patients and helping people avoid inevitable cancer.”
Walpole, along with others, urged legislators to support funding for cancer research at organizations like the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute, as well as to support legislation that would increase diversity of clinical trial participants by ensuring trial sponsors can cover trial-associated costs.
Walpole said she has seen many people in her life struggle with cancer or lose their lives to the disease, including an aunt who died of lung cancer. She said her aunt was given the opportunity to participate in a trial in Cleveland, but it was “too late in the game,” because by that point, she was too tired to travel.
“I was inspired by the stories of people in my own life, but I think it’s one of those things I’ll continue fighting for because there’s so many other people that need help,” Walpole said.
ACS CAN supports bills like the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act and the DIVERSE Trials Act, which would allow for people to access screening tests that would detect cancers in earlier stages, as well as reduce barriers for people with cancer to participate in clinical trials, respectively.
According to a 2016 study titled “Patient Income Level and Cancer Clinical Trial Participation: A Prospective Study,” patients making less than $50,000 per year are nearly 30 percent less likely to enroll in cancer clinical trials.
An Oct. 26, 2021, press release from the NCI stated “the average out-of-pocket costs for medical services in the initial and end-of-life phases of care were lowest for patients originally diagnosed with localized disease compared with more advanced stage disease.”
As someone who has worked in the healthcare industry, Walpole said oftentimes implementing certain cost-saving measures has the potential to influence other markets as well, as healthcare providers may see the financial benefit to implementing similar strategies for their own constituents.
Walpole said while there is much the government can do in the way of improving quality of life for all cancer patients, members of the community have their own roles to play if they feel so inclined, whether that be through volunteering with organizations like ACS CAN, running for political office or simply normalizing conversations with family members about preventative care.
“Instead of seeing people as a dollar amount or percentage, they should see a person. Saying, this is my daughter, this is my grandson, this is my mother, who we lost. This is who she was, as a human being,” Walpole said. “They’re not just costing the system X amount of dollars. Their lives had meaning, and I think that’s something people need to hear. We’ve got to stop dehumanizing people and start listening to each other, stop the judgments, and really have some compassion.”