Since 9/11 the United States has been engaged in what’s known as the “war on terror.” What took place on that day shocked our nation and brought modern day terrorism right onto our soil in a most horrific and deadly way. A shadowy enemy that few knew much about struck, and did so jarringly. Since then we’ve been engaged in a fight that seems unending. Like the Hydra monster of Greek mythology, the forces we fight in this asymmetric war seem to reappear soon after one is destroyed. Although our resoluteness has been unwavering, complete victory still seems far away.

Although the war on terror is fairly recent, there is another war our country and many others have been engaged in for much longer. This enemy is far deadlier and unrelenting in its attacks. This enemy is cancer.

(Photo/ The ACS’ Cancer Action Network lobbies lawmakers for cancer research funds.

(Photo/ The ACS’ Cancer Action Network lobbies lawmakers for cancer research funds.

Cancer is a lethal disease that’s invaded most everyone’s life in some form or another, whether through personally contracting it or having a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who has. Many reading this have had or supported someone engaged in their own private war with this malady. It’s no respecter of persons. It’s unmoved by one’s race, gender, religion, social class or political ideology. It’s an affliction that can attack anyone, anytime.

One local Mobilian came into contact with the horridness of cancer when her sibling contracted it. Although she did not have to personally suffer the physical effects of dealing with the disease, it nevertheless has been a life altering experience that compelled her to join the crusade to defeat this scourge that has affected our society, and the world, for so long.

In June of last year when her sister was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), Joy Chastain said she felt incredibly “helpless,” “sad” and even “angry” that her sister would have to suffer through this. Yet she processed those feelings and channeled them into work for an organization whose efforts often get overlooked, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

Established three months after the Sept. 11 attacks, ACS CAN is the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society. ACS CAN does what the American Cancer Society can’t do because of its tax classification: aggressively advocate and petition members of Congress and elected officials in statehouses across the country to not only lend their vocal support to eradicating cancer and supporting cancer survivors, but allocating monetary support as well.

Additionally, the organization conducts public health campaigns and “works with stakeholders across the health care ecosystem, including patients, caregivers, providers, employers … health systems, researchers, academia, and more to . . . ensure cancer patients and their families have access to high-quality cancer care.”

According to Chastain, her sister was a beneficiary of the advocacy work of ACS CAN. The month before her sister was diagnosed with lung cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just given the green light to an oral chemotherapy drug for treating the type of lung cancer her sister contracted. Chastain noted how this impressed upon her the importance of cancer research and the necessity of ensuring that more than adequate funding was being made available to researchers and those in academia. To her, that’s what makes the work of ACS CAN so vitally important and why she knew she had to be a part of it.

“The key to advancements in treatment, to enhancing the quality of life of cancer patients, to finding a cure for this horrible disease, is in the investment our legislators and policymakers are willing to make in doing so,” Chastain said. Her words echo that of the organization, which vocally maintains, “Funding cancer research is one of the most important factors in advancing care, improving outcomes and saving the lives of cancer patients.”

That’s why Chastain is looking forward with great excitement to her journey to Washington, D.C., this week for ACS CAN’s “Lights of Hope” event. Each year, a host of ACS CAN volunteers from each state, along with full-time ACS CAN officials, converge on the nation’s capital to personally meet with and encourage members of Congress to be “all in” when it comes to funding the fight to defeat this disease which has afflicted our nation and the world for so long.

As the ACS CAN lead volunteer for Alabama Congressional District 1, Chastain plans to meet with Rep. Bradley Byrne and Sen. Jeff Sessions. It’s an opportunity she says she relishes, and sees the cause as one that’s easy to advocate — the disease has been too ubiquitous, too pervasive and too destructive. Giving voice to those who’ve lost loved ones, to those who currently suffer and to the family members of those standing with their suffering loved ones is a task readily embraced by Chastain and other ACS CAN members.

The culmination of the “Lights of Hope” will be Sept. 29, when bags in honor of cancer patients, survivors and loved ones lost across the U.S. will be lit up at the Capitol around the reflecting pool, each bag representing a donation. Last year more than 16,000 were collected, and that number is sure to be topped this year. The flame in each is not only one of remembrance, but also of hope and optimism. This is a war we’re capable of winning.