Johanna's Law

Dec 4, 2003
Johanna's Law

KNOWLEDGE IS MORE VALUABLE THAN GOLD; Johanna Silver Gordon was unable to save her own life, but legislation named for her might prevent the deaths of other people. By Sheryl Silver Special to the Star-Telegram Johanna Silver Gordon At a time when many Americans are concerned that next November's election means that partisan politics will reign in Congress for the upcoming year, I am delighted to report a wonderful example of bipartisanship in the U.S. House. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan, along with 37 of their House colleagues, joined forces to introduce HR 3438: the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act. It is also called "Johanna's Law" -- named for my sister, Johanna Silver Gordon, a health-conscious woman who lost her life to ovarian cancer three years ago. Johanna's Law authorizes a national early detection and awareness program to provide women and health care providers with the latest information about the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian, uterine and other gynecologic cancers. These diseases kill approximately 26,000 American women each year and have caused more than 120,000 deaths in the last five years alone. This legislation is desperately needed. Most women who never have had a diagnosis of gynecologic cancer, or never have had a family member with such a diagnosis, are unaware of the common symptoms of these diseases. This was certainly true for my sister -- and for me -- before she was told that she had an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. It's also true for dozens of other cancer patients whom I've talked with or heard about in the years since Johanna's diagnosis. None knew that the symptoms they experienced were common indicators of their cancers. That lack of information has frequently led to lengthy delays in diagnosis. Many women, for example, make appointments with gastroenterologists and even undergo colonoscopies for symptoms that seem to be gastric in origin. By the time the correct diagnosis is made by a gynecologic oncologist, who is specially trained to assess and treat women's cancers, the diseases have progressed to more advanced stages, when survival rates are extremely low. This was, sadly, the case for my sister. Johanna's Law is designed to address this life-threatening set of circumstances. By creating a national educational and awareness program aimed at women as well as physicians, many of whom have little contact with gynecologic cancer patients during their medical training, enactment of this law will better enable women experiencing symptoms to seek -- and receive -- appropriate medical help quickly. Time is key to the progression of cancer, so accelerating the speed with which cases are diagnosed can lead to earlier detection and fewer deaths. Gynecologic cancers are highly survivable when discovered in the earliest stage. Johanna's Law has already gathered more than 40 co-sponsors in the House and has been endorsed by a dozen national organizations whose members represent tens of thousands of physicians, nurses, women, cancer survivors and families. As the person who first brought this issue to the attention of Congress, I am grateful to all the legislators and organizations supporting this bill. I am particularly grateful to Granger for taking a leadership role in sponsoring Johanna's Law with Levin. By doing so, she enabled this important bipartisan legislative effort to move forward, providing millions of American women and families with the hope that fewer of their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and dear friends will die from gynecologic cancers in the future. Occasionally, I stop and reflect that my wonderful sister might still be alive if this bill had been enacted 10 or more years ago. Of course, it wasn't. It can, however, become law in the very near future if each person who believes in its potential to save lives contacts members of Congress and urges them to co-sponsor Johanna's Law -- and then contacts five friends in other districts within Texas or in other states and asks them to urge their lawmakers to do the same. With that kind of proactive, grassroots effort, I am sure we will all be celebrating the passage of Johanna's Law in the very near future. Members of Congress do pay attention to calls and letters. I've seen it happen repeatedly while working on this bill. Legislators are eager to respond to constituents' concerns. If you have never contacted your member of Congress to seek support on a piece of legislation, I urge you to try it. It's a great experience. When you realize that your call or letter motivated that lawmaker to support legislation -- in this case, legislation with the potential to save your life or the life of a woman you love -- it's a wonderful feeling. It's also a wonderful reminder of the privileges and blessings that come with living in this great country, a representative democracy with legislators who respond to our concerns with compassion and the commitment to create a better future for us all. Contacting Congress Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison U.S. Senate 284 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510-4302 www.hutchison.senate.gov/ Sen. John Cornyn U.S. Senate 517 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510-4304 www.cornyn.senate.gov/ Rep. Joe Barton U.S. House of Representatives 2109 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-4306 www.house.gov/barton/ Rep. Kay Granger U.S. House of Representatives 435 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-4312 www.kaygranger.house.gov/ Rep. Michael Burgess U.S. House of Representatives 1721 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-4326 www.house.gov/burgess/ Rep. Martin Frost U.S. House of Representatives 2256 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-4324 www.house.gov/frost/ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sheryl Silver lives in Hallandale, Fla., and was the recipient of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation's 2003 Public Service Award.