Sept. 26, 1998: The March

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As we approach the 23rd anniversary of The March, The Cancer Letter archives offer a unique way to reflect on the leadup to—and events of—the day. In October, 1997, The Cancer Letter dedicated the entirety of what was then an 8-page publication to a lengthy analysis of the vision for The March. Then, one year later, those same 8 pages were trained on the event—the speeches, the attendance, the music, and more.

Here is our real-time coverage:

1997: The plan

Ellen Stovall and Donna Doneski at The March

Consider a vision:

Cancer survivors, researchers, and clinicians agree to advance a common agenda. That agenda is endorsed by trade unions, industries and advocates for the environment, children and the elderly.

Then, one day in September 1998, hundreds of thousands of marchers come to Washington to demand that the government launch a new War on Cancer. Millions more take part in rallies, sit-ins and teach-ins nationwide.

After the crowds are gone, a grassroots network remains. This network is able to mobilize enough votes–and enough dollars–to swing elections. Within months, politicians declared to be weak on cancer are driven out of Washington, state capitols, and city halls.

“If the average voter understood how much can be done about cancer and how little is being done, a national movement would materialize,” said Ellen Stovall, executive director of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, who has pulled together a loose coalition of advocacy groups and financial supporters for The March…Coming Together to Conquer Cancer. The march is scheduled for next September.

Sept. 26, 1998

Ellen Stovall speaking at The March

Organizers of The March: Coming Together to Conquer Cancer estimated that at least 150,000 people attended a noon rally on Sept. 26 in Washington, DC, the main event in a two–day extravaganza designed to draw national attention to the need for greater funding for cancer research and wider access to quality cancer care. 

That the event even took place at all, considering the disparate organizations that had to set aside their differences and work together over the past year, was an achievement worth noting. That The March came off with hardly a glitch and attracted as many people as can be seated at the Rose Bowl and Oriole Park at Camden Yards combined, astounded many activists.

Vice President Al Gore has called for increased funding for cancer research and urged Congress to approve measures to widen access to clinical trials and protect patients’ rights.

Speaking to The March: Coming Together to Conquer Cancer on Sept. 26 in Washington, also challenged NCI to complete the following tasks:

  • Finalize procedures to include patient advocates on peer review committees.
  • Speed the process of enrolling patients on clinical trials.
  • Develop new techniques for early detection.

The three initiatives have been in development at the Institute for the past year. NCI Director Richard Klausner said the Institute would have procedures for integrating patient advocates into peer review committees by Gore’s deadline of next spring.

President Bill Clinton’s radio address on Sept. 26 repeated some of the same themes of Vice President Al Gore’s speech at The March rally the same day.

In the address, Clinton discusses NCI initiatives to include cancer patient advocates on study sections and advisory groups and to develop informatics systems that will streamline patient enrollment on clinical trials. He also issues a “challenge” to scientists to develop new cancer diagnostic techniques—a reference to the new NCI Unconventional Innovations Program.

Below is an excerpt from his speech:

“This morning I want to talk to you about our overall vision of cancer care and research as we approach the 21st century. This is a time of striking progress, stunning breakthroughs. With unyielding speed, scientists are mapping the very blueprint of human life, and expectations of the Human Genome Project are being exceeded by the day. We are closing in on the genetic causes of breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. New tools for screening and diagnosis are returning to many patients the promise of a long and healthy life. It is no wonder scientists say we are turning the corner in the fight against cancer.”

An excerpt from NCI Director Richard Klausner’s speech at The March rally Sept. 26:

“I’m pleased to speak today on behalf of the discoverers, the scientists, the clinicians, and the patients who together are going to make the discoveries, are going to make the advances, that will move us forward.

“We have with this march a new and powerful metaphor for our struggle against cancer. Together we will move forward, inexorably, driven not by promises, but by real purpose.

“This is not a sprint and we’ll not tire. The scientists are just as frustrated, just as impatient, as the survivors and all who form this community together. It doesn’t matter how long this march takes, we will be motivated by the suffering we all feel, motivated by the sure conviction that ignorance and inaction means defeat, and knowledge and its application are our only certain road to victories.”

Quote of the week

We had the march that will make the change. Now we need to implement it. That’s going to take our energy for a long time.

Ellen Stovall
Ellen Stovall at The March

Recent contributions


This column features the latest posts to the Cancer History Project by our growing list of contributors

The Cancer History Project is a free, web-based, collaborative resource intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act and designed to continue in perpetuity. The objective is to assemble a robust collection of historical documents and make them freely available. 

Access to the Cancer History Project is open to the public at CancerHistoryProject.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at @CancerHistProj.

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