February 26, 2007
The south steps of the Capitol were illuminated at sunset Monday with hundreds of candle-lit paper bags honoring Texans whose lives have been impacted by cancer.The American Cancer Society held the Light Up the Dome event to show lawmakers that cancer is a priority issue. The vigil is the kickoff to the society’s lobbying today for a statewide smoke-free ordinance, a breast and cervical cancer early detection program and a tobacco cessation law, said American Cancer Society spokeswoman Flor Zapotechne. Hundreds of participants came from across Texas, and a majority were from Austin.”It is not just a bag, it is a person that has been touched by cancer,” Zapotechne said.The gathering is a great healing process, said Andrew Brown, who stood next to a glowing bag honoring his grandfather, who passed away from cancer three weeks ago.”I wanted to come, because this is a way to memorialize him,” Brown said.The event included 233 bags representing the number of Texans who are diagnosed with cancer each day and 90 bags representing the number of Texans who die from cancer daily.This is a way to put a face on cancer and physically show lawmakers how many people die and suffer from cancer, said Rodney Ahart, the American Cancer Society government relations director and the organizer of the event. One in three Americans will be affected by cancer during their lifetime, and this year alone more than 91,000 Texans will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 34,000 will lose their battle with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Ahart said the cancer society has an action network that is working with lawmakers to ensure these bills will be passed.It is important for the Legislature to hear our voice, said Patty Stewart, a cancer survivor who attended the vigil.”It strikes everyone it wants, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Stewart said.A gathering such as this is important because it strengthens all that share this common impact; It gives people hope when we see those who have survived, said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Travis, who is also a cancer survivor.Texas legislators need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access health care, Watson said. He added that detecting cancer early is the key to surviving the disease.”In Texas, we need to do a better job of making sure people who are fighting this disease have health care,” Watson said.