WASHINGTON -- While undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia at age 3, Morgan Clark could not get her 4-year-old brother to play with her. He couldn't understand why she had no hair. Youthfully naive, he was scared he might lose his if he came too close.
The pain of witnessing this strained interaction between her children inspired their mother, Tracey Clark of Columbia, to join the national war against cancer.
Rallying on the National Mall in Washington yesterday, Clark and her daughter, who is in remission, joined an estimated 80,000 cancer patients, loved ones, activists, celebrities and politicians who united behind a single message: It's time for a cure.
"We want to be the generation that ends the war on cancer, and ends it with a victory," said Vice President Al Gore.
"We are united as Americans to fight this cause."
In the United States alone, cancer claims an estimated 1,500 people every day. Yesterday's event, known as "The March, Coming Together to Conquer Cancer," was billed as the first large-scale demonstration against the disease to involve people and groups other than patients, physicians and researchers. Organizers said they hoped to draw attention to the need for more investment in cancer prevention, research and quality health care for Americans.
Throughout the day, speakers showered the crowd with statistics related to the disease: Cancer is expected to kill 564,800 Americans this year, the American Cancer Society estimates. Half of all men, and one-third of all women, will develop some form of cancer.
In Maryland, the society projects that 10,500 people will die of the disease in 1998. Statewide this year, the society expects 22,900 new cancer cases to be reported.
"People are angry and frustrated," said Dr. Donald Coffey, an oncology researcher at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center.
"They believe that there has been a war, and it has failed. This hasn't been a war on cancer. This has been a skirmish."
Coffey, former president of the American Association for Cancer Research and an organizer of yesterday's events, complained that 75 percent of cancer research grant proposals are denied funding.
The doctor joined about 250 people who crammed into five buses at the Johns Hopkins Medical School campus early yesterday and made the trip to Washington.
The event was endorsed by more than 500 organizations, including the American Cancer Society.
"There are so many people affected, and this is such a great opportunity to reach a wider audience," said society spokesman Steve Jones, who estimated that the mid-Atlantic division of the organization bused in 1,500 people, many from Maryland.
Brian Devlin, 48, of Baltimore, who co-chairs the Greater Baltimore Alliance for Cancer Survivorship, said the event was momentous because for the first time, activists seeking cures for the various forms of cancer were launching a unified campaign, instead of squabbling for funding. "Research cures cancer -- that's the reality," said Devlin, who is in his eleventh year of remission after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Vicki Davidson, 46, of Pottstown, Pa., believes she was helped by research. Doctors told her last year that she had an advanced form of lung cancer that was inoperable. But after she endured nine courses of an experimental chemotherapy, doctors were able to remove what remained of the tumor.
"I want to help other people," said Davidson, pointing out that her hair was returning. She held a sign that read, "I want to live, not die."
"Some people are calling me a miracle," she said.
Singer Aretha Franklin and super-model Cindy Crawford gave the event celebrity status. Retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the event's honorary chairman, gave a spirited, podium-pounding speech, insisting that elected officials follow through on promises for more research funding.
Gore, whose sister died of lung cancer, called in his address for more access to clinical trials, tighter privacy laws for medical records so Americans who are told that their genetic code makes them likely to develop cancer are not denied health coverage, and more spending on research. The Clinton administration and Congress are already planning to increase the cancer research budget for next year.
But in the shadow of the main stage were smaller-scale events perhaps equally as important.
Clark, the Maryland mother -- whose daughter, Morgan, now 5, has received a good prognosis for a full life -- was introduced at an early-morning ceremony where she helped to unveil a mammoth quilt, covered with little, hand-made squares, each in memory of a child who was a cancer patient.
Clark, who helped to come up with the idea for the nationwide quilt project, has started a Web site -- www.thefamilyplace.org -- which offers parents of child cancer patients information about cures and helps parents to communicate with one another and create support groups.
In another event, 76-year-old Berkeley V. Bennett of New Haven Mills, Vt., told a panel of leading physicians that cancer doctors need to be more patient-friendly. Bennett has started a support group in his town for prostate cancer patients.
At another tent, members of People Animals Love spoke of how they cheer up cancer patients in hospitals and nursing homes by bringing animals to visit.
"We visited a retired general recently," said Margo Edmunds, standing beside her 7-year-old border collie, Tess. "He was very depressed, and terminally ill. And he missed his dogs."
Pub Date: 9/27/98