First Lady Jill Biden (middle) at a listening session with Fred Hutch researchers Friday. (GeekWire Photo / Charlotte Schubert)

First Lady Jill Biden visited Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center on Friday in Seattle, where she met with researchers and spoke about cancer prevention and the need to mitigate side effects and reduce recurrence.

She also touched on what it’s like for families and individuals to navigate the complexities of cancer and the healthcare system.

“It just feels like you’re walking under water,” said Biden during a listening session with Fred Hutch researchers and a breast cancer patient. President Biden’s son Beau Biden died from brain cancer in 2015.

Jill Biden’s visit came after her Sept. 13 announcement with President Biden of new programs linked to the Cancer Moonshot, launched a year after Beau’s death. The White House initiative aims to improve cancer treatment and halve deaths from the disease within the next 25 years.

The initiative’s first years focused on early-stage cancer research, and the new programs extend the Moonshot’s reach to support efforts such as cancer prevention and patient education.

Researchers at the listening session included Veena Shankaran, who talked about a Fred Hutch study assessing outcomes in patients connected to nurse navigators who help with financial difficulties and otherwise support patients.

“There are so many pieces to this cancer journey,” said Biden. “The financial toxicity is just one part of it. If you are that patient or you are that loved one, it’s just so hard to walk through that experience.”

Patient navigation services helped her own family, and can also connect patients to clinical trials, said Biden. As part of the Moonshot program, President Biden supports a proposal to fund cancer navigation through Medicare, she noted.

The First Lady also spoke about the importance of early detection and how the pandemic affected routine cancer screening. People need to catch up on their screening, said Biden. “We have got to get that message out,” she added.

First Lady Jill Biden (left) with Fred Hutch President and Director Thomas Lynch. (GeekWire Photo / Charlotte Schubert)

Jill Biden’s interest in preventing cancer goes back decades. The long-time community college educator started the Biden Breast Health Initiative in the early 1990’s to teach Delaware high school girls about breast cancer detection. One aim was that the girls “would take all this information home to their moms and their grandmas,” she told the small audience of Fred Hutch administrators, board members, and reporters.

Other researchers on the panel spoke about the role of lifestyle in disease, racial inequities in outcomes, and treatment of pediatric patients, who often suffer from side effects like infertility. Biden also toured the lab of Fred Hutch investigator Cyrus Ghajar, who leads a program focused on detection, prevention and treatment of tumor metastasis.

Biden echoed the words of her husband when he visited Fred Hutch in 2016. Then, he urged Americans have optimism for the future and to believe that “we can do anything.”

Said the First Lady: “As I’ve traveled the country and the world, I’ve seen innovative programs and partnerships that are making progress. I’ve seen what is possible when we invest in cutting edge research. And I’m seeing that there is so much hope to be found.”

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