Commentary

Health obstacles are not death sentences – but continued funding of NIH, CDC critical for cures

Routine exams and open communication with physicians may save your life, writes guest columnist Chuck Malloy.

July 20, 2021 4:05 am
CDC headquarters in Atlanta

Headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo by James Gathany, CDC)

Talking with Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher about his recent cancer diagnosis a couple of weeks ago hit home with me. In many ways, being lucky is better than being good.

The congressman’s cancer was discovered in conjunction with a routine physical examination. Fulcher, who normally is a ball of energy, just happened to mention to his doctor that he was not feeling at his normal high-octane level.

The revelation probably saved his life. His doctor ordered some tests and renal cancer was discovered. Fulcher says it’s all treatable and everything will be fine.

I was in a similar situation almost 17 years ago, although my circumstance was related to my heart (and diabetes), opposed to cancer. During a routine checkup, I told my doctor that I was experiencing shortness of breath during my regular workouts on my exercise bike – nothing big, just something that I have noticed over time. My doctor referred me to a cardiologist, and a few days later, I was getting five-way heart bypass surgery.

Looking back, I came close to not telling my doctor anything – a decision that would have put me in a graveyard 16 years ago. Look at me now. I just turned 71 years old and typically walk four or five miles a day, play golf during the spring and summer and bowl during the cold months. As a bonus, I’m still writing my regular political columns, which is my twisted way of “having fun.”

So I have no doubt that Russ – who compared to me is a young whipper snapper at 59 – is going to be fine. I’d say chances are strong that he will be serving in Congress for at least some time after I hang up my keyboard.

But he’s the first to say that he won’t be the same Russ Fulcher that we’ve always known – or the same guy he knows. His goals include being a better legislator, a better person and one who has more compassion toward people dealing with cancer. A few of his perspectives will change, no doubt.

Diabetes certainly has changed my outlook. Over the years, I have spoken to various groups to promote awareness of this “silent killer” and have participated in events in Washington, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. A couple of weeks ago, as an early birthday present, I was named to the board of directors for Diabetes Alliance of Idaho, which is focused on diabetes education and prevention. 

So, what does this have to do with politics? Everything.

Finding a cure for diabetes depends on continued congressional funding for the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health. Politics comes to the forefront during discussions over the cost of insulin, or the listing of calorie counts on menu items.

With COVID-19, diabetes has been pushed to the background some, but it remains as a major health crisis both nationally and in Idaho – with an estimated 132,000 having diabetes and more than 100,000 with this ticking time bomb called pre-diabetes.

We’ll see in time where Fulcher’s passion takes him, but he’s a pretty decent guy to begin with. He’s not one of these members of Congress who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth – coming from a rich family and turning his privileged fortunes into a lofty political career. Russ grew up on a dairy farm and spent his life, in and out of politics, working his tail off. He’s an easy guy to chat with and relate to – even for those who might not agree with him down the line politically. Stay tuned to an “improved” version.

What he should realize is that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence – it’s just something he has to deal with for a while. I’ve had my share of complications and challenges with diabetes over the last 20-plus years, but it has not been a death sentence.

I couldn’t imagine having a better life. I may be into the fourth quarter, but there’s still a good amount of time left on the clock.

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