National Press Club

Cancer Survivor Offers Cancer Policy Ideas

May 28, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr. |

After navigating a 2,600-mile sailboat journey from Mexico to Alaska in
2008 following a successful battle against a lethal form of cancer, Dick
Drechsler is embarking on a trek that won’t cover as much geography
but could be just as challenging.

Drechsler introduced a six-point plan for improving federal cancer
policy at a May 27 Newsmaker. He is launching a grass-roots campaign to
garner support in the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill. He’ll be
one of a multitude of advocates trying to grab part of the health care
reform spotlight.

Ranking behind only heart disease as an annual killer, cancer deserves
its own point person in the government, according to Drechsler. He is
calling on President Obama to appoint a cancer czar.

“A war needs a general,” Drechsler said.

Another recommendation is to establish an Internet-based
cancer-management system. Drechsler draws parallels with dating Web
sites. Cancer victims would describe their diagnosis and then be
directed to facilities where they can best be treated.

The idea comes from Drechsler’s own experience. When he was diagnosed
with advanced neck and throat cancer in 2005, he underwent invasive and
radical treatment. During radiation, his throat grew shut.

After searching widely, Drechsler finally found a doctor at the M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who specialized in his problem. Wading
through all the cancer references on the Web can be daunting.

“It’s very hard to find information that is on point for the cancer that
is ailing you,” Drechsler said. “You have to take ownership of your

Other priorities in Drechsler’s plan include developing standards for
prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment, facilitating the sharing
of cancer research breakthroughs and creating a cancer patients’ bill of

While Drechsler is trying to change the country’s approach to cancer, he
also is reaching out to other survivors through his love of sailing. The
voyage that Drechsler and his wife Sharon undertook not only led to a
book, Manning Up in Alaska, it also inspired a following that led him to
establish the Sail Through Cancer Foundation.

The organization is launching next month the Armada of Hope. The
initiative involves enlisting 1000 sailboats around the country to
provide cruises to cancer victims, especially children.

While in the Washington area over the Memorial Day weekend, Drechsler
and his wife signed up 12 boats that sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

Although his throat is permanently restricted, Drechsler remains an avid sportsman. He advises others battling cancer to fight aggressively.

“Don’t be fearful,” he said. “There is life after cancer.”