Cancer survivors, advocates lobby state legislature

Linda Zenonian, a skin cancer survivor, talked about her experiences at a cancer awareness luncheon on the Arizona State Capitol lawn on Feb 22, 2017. (Photo by Devon Cordell/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Survivors, caregivers, health care workers and volunteers alike all came together on the Arizona State Capitol lawn Wednesday morning to mark National Cancer Awareness month.

American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network has been meeting on the lawn every year for over a decade, raising cancer awareness. This year, members are trying to garner support for bills concerning cancer prevention.

Susan Monroe, a cancer survivor and volunteer for the American Cancer Society said the group had three initiatives for the day: to persuade the Senate for approval on a bill which would create an age limit of 18 to use a tanning bed, to garner support for a bill which would raise the age to use tobacco to 21, and to maintain the current state funding of $1.3 million for Well Women Health.

According to the most recent information from the Arizona Department of Health Services, cancer is the leading cause of death in Arizona and an estimated 12,000 people will die this year from it.

“It started with just an annual checkup” said Linda Zenonian, a skin cancer survivor. She said she would tan outside while she was young, but would also use tanning beds.

“About 3 years ago my skin cancer got so bad that they had to start doing serious operations,” Zenonian said. The skin cancer spread all over her body and face. She called the required topical medicines and creams “extraordinarily expensive.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

“When you say you have skin cancer people don’t really think of it as cancer. It’s a serious deadly cancer,” said Zenonian. “[It’s] something that everyone in Arizona needs to be concerned about.”

The bill, HB 2194, which would update the laws on tanning bed use, was proposed by Representative Heather Carter (R-15). It passed the House and only Senate approval is needed to send it to the governor’s desk.

Many tables at the event handed out free sunscreen and SPF chapstick to encourage the healthy habits of skin protection against the sun and promote the endeavors of the organization.

(Video by Joseph Constantin/Cronkite News)

The group’s second bill, HB 2335 is nicknamed “Tobacco 21.” The bill would raise the purchase age for cigarettes to 21. The bill has not yet made it through all its assigned committees in the House.

“It’s not just an Arizona problem, it’s a national problem.” said Dr. Ronald J. Servi on the Tobacco 21 bill. “Most of my patients usually started smoking before they were 21.”

The groups also lobbied for the continued funding of $1.3 million for Well Women Health, as the legislature gets ready to tackle the state budget. Well Woman Healthcheck program helps women with low income, uninsured or underinsured women gain access to breast and cervical cancer screening.

Cindy Kludas, site coordinator for Mobile On-site Mammography, said, “Most people who get mammograms with us say they never would have done it if it weren’t so convenient.”

“We know there are policies that we can implement that will reduce the number of cancers that people contract and ultimately pass away from,” said Brian Hummell, with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.