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Why I Faced Arrest, Even as I Battle Cancer, to Fight TPP

The author was arrested outside a TPP ministerial meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia last September (pictured) and then again last week on World Cancer Day at the headquarters of the pharmaceutical lobbyying group PhRMA. (Image: Youtube/Screenshot)

I am a mom with advanced breast cancer. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 11. That’s why I was arrested last week at a protest on World Cancer Day at the headquarters of PhRMA, which has been lobbying to increase monopolies for medicines in the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership. I want to be here for as long as possible for my son, and I don’t want any children to suffer as I did when my mom died. So I’m asking Congress to reject the TPP.

If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive. Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access. This means that some people with cancer will die because they can’t get the medicine they need.

"For some patients, the TPP would be a death sentence."

Even now, one of the medicines that is treating my cancer could cost me over $100,000 if I were not in a clinical trial, because my insurance formulary does not cover it for the kind of breast cancer I have. How many other women might benefit from this medicine but couldn’t afford it? If the TPP passes, we’ll lock in policies that encourage drug companies to charge these kind of exorbitant prices.


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For some patients, the TPP would be a death sentence. It affects people with cancer, our loved ones, and especially, our children. I was glad to be able to join hands with Hannah Lyon, who has cervical cancer, to tell PhRMA and the world that we will not stand by silently when the TPP could affect patients’ ability to access the medicines they need to stay alive.

The day of our protest, World Cancer Day, coincided with the testimony in Congress by “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli. He is called “the most hated man in America” because he raised the price of a medicine for toxoplasmosis from under $20 to $750 per tablet.

Congress rightly took Shkreli to task for his unconscionable actions. But if Congress votes for the TPP, they will be locking in policies, most likely for decades to come, that create incentives for pharmaceutical companies to act like Shkreli did. For cancer patients, that would be truly unconscionable.

Zahara Heckscher

Zahara Heckscher is a mother, writer, breast cancer patient, and “Cancer Thriver” living in Washington, DC. Her current treatment includes chemotherapy and palbociclib. She was arrested in Atlanta at the TPP negotiations in 2015, and again in Washington, DC on February 4, 2016, World Cancer Day, protesting for access to cancer medicines.

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