The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, visited various places during her trip to the Madison area on Thursday, including a listening session at the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness on Madison’s West Side where she and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin spoke on a panel with many of Madison and Milwaukee’s community health leaders highlighting the importance of early detection and improving access to cancer screenings.
“We all know the statistics: life-saving screenings and treatments are often out of reach for neighborhoods of color, low-income areas, or rural places where care is difficult to access — where rates are higher and people more at risk,” Biden said. “Joe’s budget invests in programs to help improve access to this type of care. So everyone, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to be screened when they need it. And we all have a role to play: doctors, researchers, patients and their families, governments, non-profits, and businesses.”
Hosted by the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness CEO Lisa Peyton-Caire, alongside Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the conversation covered many topics surrounding Wisconsin’s healthcare systems, cancer advocacy for low-to-no-income groups, as well as personal testimonies that bring communities closer together. Sen. Baldwin also made a special announcement about plans to relaunch a national breast and cervical cancer early detection program, which is heavily supported by many of the community partners here in Madison as well as nationally under the Biden Administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative.
Dr. Biden’s advocacy for cancer education and prevention began in 1993, when four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. Following that year, she launched the Biden Breast Health Initiative to educate Delaware high school girls about the importance of cancer prevention. In 2015, after Dr. Biden and then-Vice President Joe Biden lost their son, Beau, to brain cancer, they helped push for a national commitment to ending cancer as we know it through the White House Cancer Moonshot. Following the Obama-Biden Administration, then-former Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden continued their cancer work through the Biden Cancer Initiative.
In February 2022, President Biden and Dr. Biden reignited the Cancer Moonshot and set a new national goal: If we work together, we can cut the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years, and improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer. As President Biden has said, giving a speech at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, “Cancer does not discriminate red and blue; it doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Beating cancer is something we can do together.”
Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is an initiative to increase the research, education, and cancer advocacy of national healthcare systems. With a mission to “accelerate the rate of progress against cancer.” Dr. Biden spoke more on the mission of this White House project by saying, “We invest in innovative research and help patients and their families navigate this journey.”
Since the start of the Biden Administration, the First Lady has participated in Cancer Moonshot engagements across nearly a dozen states and two countries. Earlier this year, the First Lady visited the Louisiana Cancer Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, with Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. and his spouse Dr. Laura Cassidy to highlight the importance of colorectal cancer screening and investing in cancer research.
The members of the panel for Thursday’s event at the Foundation For Black Women’s Wellness represented many of the key issues in Wisconsin’s Black and Latino/a populations. The participants included Gale Johnson, director of the Wisconsin Well Women Program, an organization that helps women who have little or no health insurance get screening for breast and cervical cancers, and Gaulien “Gee” Smith, owner of Gee’s Clippers, a barbershop in Milwaukee dedicated to early detection of cancer and other health-related issues by providing health clinics in his barbershops.
Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron, a family medicine physician at Access Community Health Centers, spoke directly on the importance of equitable healthcare systems that address the needs of our entire communities. “Covid should tell us that whatever happens to one population is going to happen to everybody, so when we have people in our community with cancer it is going to influence everyone,” she said.
Carole Johnson, an administrator for Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), brought up the need to sponsor and partner with community organizations to address healthcare disparities for low-to-no-income communities and communities of color. This panel also featured special guest Christine Russell, a cancer survivor and director of health and wellness programs at the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, who spoke directly to her experiences navigating through the Wisconsin healthcare systems and her journey with cancer.
Dr. Biden emphasized the importance of this project being a personal reflection of her experiences with cancer. She also highlighted the importance of having community partners and building community coalitions to advocate for equitable healthcare systems and navigate those fields.
“For me and [President] Joe, this is really the mission of our life … we won’t give up and we’re going to keep trying and I know that all of you here feel the exact same way, because cancer touches all of us,” Biden said.