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Former Vice President Joe Biden Speaks on His Family’s Experience Battling Cancer

Photos: Courtesy of David Linemann and the Biden Cancer Institute

In the wake of the devastating loss of their son, Joe and Dr. Jill Biden have committed themselves to advocating for cancer research and spreading the importance of early detection.

“When my son was diagnosed with Stage IV glioblastoma, I did what any parent or loved one would do — I tried to learn as much as I could about the disease he was facing,” says Joe Biden. Biden’s firstborn son, Beau, died in 2015 at age 46.

The former second-in-command and his wife started the Biden Cancer Initiative. This independent nonprofit is dedicated to accelerating progress in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, research and care.

“Too many families in every corner of the world are grappling with the realities of cancer,” says Dr. Jill Biden. “Let us show them that we are in this together.”

The organization is hosting their first Biden Cancer Summit on September 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of partners across the country will also hold Biden Cancer Community Summits.

Continued commitment

In 2016, former President Barack Obama put Biden in charge of the White House Cancer Moonshot, an initiative with the goal of doubling the rate of advancement against cancer. Progress was made, including Congress’ passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides $6.3 billion in biomedical and health-related research.


Now, the Bidens are inspired to continue that work. But first, they say the United States cancer research system needs to change. The same outdated approaches — used in 1971 when President Nixon declared his War on Cancer initiative — are still used now.

The Bidens stress the importance of sharing as much information as possible with researchers worldwide.

“We should be able to say that the affordability of cancer treatments is getting better not worse, but we can’t,” says Biden. “We should be able to say that people in every zip code are getting tested for detectable cancers before they progress to a fatal degree, but we can’t.”

Persisting hope

“Over the years, cancer has taken more from Joe and me than we ever could have imagined,” says Dr. Jill Biden, whose parents also died from cancer. “It’s shattered our hearts. It’s stolen our joy.”

Still, they’re looking to the future.

“Everything we have learned through Beau’s battle has given me great hope,” says Biden.

He is especially optimistic about early detection of cancer, which includes the use of artificial intelligence to “see” things doctors might not detect on a scan, and the success of immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer.

“This is all possible. This is within reach,” he says. “There is so much hope and promise, but we aren’t there yet.”

Note: At the time this interview was conducted, President Biden had not yet announced his run for, or had been elected to, President of the United States.

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