WASHINGTON — Roger Daltrey would do nearly anything for his teen cancer charity — even sit through an hour of Congress-speak about how to pass a medical cures bill.
The lead singer for The Who came to Capitol Hill Wednesday as the star panelist in a discussion of efforts by the House and Senate to pass legislation that might lead to faster medical cures. Daltrey joined the House Republicans and Democrats at the event, hosted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to urge the Senate to pass its own medical cures bills now that the House has passed its version. “Pull your finger out, Senate,” Daltrey said.
But Daltrey was also there to promote Teen Cancer America, the charity he started with Pete Townshend, The Who’s songwriter and guitarist, to encourage hospitals to build special wards specifically for teenage cancer patients.
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Daltrey, now 72, sat down with STAT after the panel discussion to explain his interest in teen cancer — which started with his involvement in a British charity, Teenage Cancer Trust — and his views on the biggest medical initiatives in Washington, including the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act and Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” effort.
He even acknowledged one casualty of his years of high-decibel stadium shows: He asked to do the interview in a corner of the briefing room so he could hear better. “It’s my hearing — I’m in a rock band,” he explained with a laugh.
The transcript of the interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
What got you interested in teen cancer in the first place? It’s such a specific situation with cancer.
The whole charity movement was started by my doctor, and when he told me the idea, I just thought, it just makes so much sense. I remember my teenage years, and I remember how isolated I felt as a teenager. You know, you didn’t quite fit anywhere. And I was into music, no one else was, you know, all those things. You get all those paranoid insecurities that teenagers have.
And I couldn’t have dreamt of a worse situation than being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15 and then being stuck in a room with 3- or 4-year-olds and isolated. Because isolation for that age group is one of the worst things you can do to them.
Today, all the dreams that they’re dreaming for their future … when they’re diagnosed with cancer, all of that comes to a halt in this system. And it shouldn’t be. You know, if a child deserves a teddy bear to keep them happy, then facilities can be provided quite easily for treatment to make this experience for teenagers going through these dreadful experiences a lot better.
So how does that help research into better treatments for teen cancer?
Because it will isolate them and make it easier to focus on them as a group. At the moment, they’re all treated as children, or when they’re over 18, they’re heaped with the adults. … As soon as you’ve got them isolated within the hospital system, it will be much easier to focus. And the medical practitioners of both camps, adult and pediatric, they will be, you know, working side by side.
And just by that thing alone, things develop. They just do. It’s the way we are as people. You say something by accident, or you do something by accident, and something happens. And then that pushes energy on somewhere else. And who knows what the possibilities will be?
You know, they had to fight to get the children’s hospital. And we’ve started with cancer because it’s much more common than you realize in teenagers. About every hour, there’s one diagnosed. And they do get the rarest, most aggressive cancers. I mean, horrible cancers. And they’re very, very hard to treat because they’re not physiologically the same as children or adults.
So everything has to be fought for in the system, and I just think we’ll make it a lot easier if they start to now.
So what do you think of the Cures bill in general? Do you think they’re going about it the right way?
I think they’re going about it the only way you can in your system. I think, you know, the process of government now and legislation, especially when it comes to drugs, is so complicated. You’re in a “sue” culture. All of those components make any legislation so difficult.
Realistically, they’re doing an admirable job. And to see the two sides of the House together, I just think it’s so needed in America. There’s too much division. America needs to come together. It’s a very dangerous world out there. And this is one area that they are. And it’s great to see, and I applaud them for it.
What do you think about Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot effort? He says his ultimate goal is to end cancer.
It’s really complicated. It’s a great idea. I don’t know realistically whether they’ll ever find a silver bullet [for cancer], because it’s so malicious, it changes … I think the main thing is to improve the lives of people with it.
And let’s be honest — do we really want to keep people alive until they’re 150? Can you imagine what kind of world that would be? We’re already in the way at my age group — we’re already in the way of this young age group. No, it’s true. As long as you’ve got good health … we shouldn’t be so worried about dying. It’s not an exit — it’s an entrance.
You raise the money for Teen Cancer America through a portion of the ticket sales, and you sell your microphones?
I sell my microphones after every show. … They go for anything from $5 to $10,000 each. And it all helps. You’d be surprised what you can get done when you put your mind [to it]. Maybe we’ll start selling the ground we walk on. (Laughs)