On June 13 at 7:30 a.m., my husband and I met with the first of Mayo Clinic doctors who would help us figure out whether the large tumor discovered in his abdomen was benign or malignant.
That same day, an hour later and 1,000 miles away on the East Coast, my father met with his doctor to discuss whether the large tumor discovered in his liver was benign or malignant. My mother, who has Multiple System Atrophy, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, sat next to him.
I spent that day texting family, Googling, making more appointments, and leaning against walls to hold myself up.
Most of the summer was the same.
Because of what my family faces, I have a selfish and dogged interest in medical research. I know I'm in the minority in the United States. A quick search of "medical research" on the website presidentialopenquestions.com, where citizens can submit and vote for questions to be considered for the next presidential debate finds, as I write this, a total of four questions, with two focusing on marijuana legalization. A deeper look reveals that a question like "How will you ensure steady and reliable NIH funding?" has three votes. A very specific question about funding medical research doesn't even break 150 votes, when the leading question on the site has more than 35,000.
Medical research isn't top of mind for most Americans, whether it's a presidential election cycle or not. I understand why. We think it's something that just gets done. When we picture medical research, we picture a scientist in a white coat somewhere looking at cells under a microscope. We know it will take years for that cell to become a medicine to become a treatment to become a cure. It all seems obscure and insurmountable and, frankly, not essential to us that particular day, so we leave it in the background of our lives, where scientists are content to stay and do their important work. We only want to know about the "instant" results, the headline announcing the Alzheimer's treatment or cancer cure. We take the antibiotic for granted.
I can tell you from experience that the day will come when medical research will selfishly become essential. Sometimes twice in one day. When you're sitting across from the doctor and she's telling you the diagnosis of someone you love and your only hope is in her next sentence -- here's what we're going to do -- you pray hard that someone somewhere years ago got funded to sit at a microscope and find something.
For those of you keeping score from my day in June: husband -- benign; father --malignant; mother -- fighting. I thank the people before us who had the foresight to secure the medical research that's helping my family today. There are easy ways to follow their example: Ask the questions. Vote. Let your candidates know that medical research is important to you. Don't wait until you need it, because by then, it's just too late.