Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the American Cancer Society Courage Awards

March 29, 1988

The President. In my years at the White House, I've had the privilege of meeting with many extraordinary people—political leaders, both national and international, men and women who've performed heroic deeds, astronauts, sports champions, all kinds of distinguished achievers. These are all people who've made their mark on the world, and meeting them is one of the nicest parts about being President. But I can't imagine a group of individuals that is more representative of the finest in our country than you who have been chosen to receive the American Cancer Society Courage Awards. I've been given information about all of you—where you come from, your ages, occupations, the kind of cancer that you have experienced. You're not only a cross section of the American people, you are living proof that the quality of courage is universal.

There's a terrible fear that comes when you're told that you have cancer, a fear that is the same whether you are 8 or 80. But that fear was not the end for you, but a challenge. And that's where that courage begins. First you accept the challenge to fight cancer in any way you can. And for all of you here today, your battle with cancer has become more than a personal battle. That is because you've all made conscious decisions to help others who have cancer. Many of you are active volunteers for the American Cancer Society. Some are officers in their units or divisions. Some have written books or worked on instructive videotapes. You've all used your experiences with cancer to help others come to terms with cancer in their lives.

Nancy and I faced that same decision ourselves. We made a conscious decision that it was important to "go public" with the fact that—in both her case and mine—good medical supervision, early detection, and prompt treatment were the keys to victory over cancer. People need to know that cancer isn't something to run and hide from. Cancer is a fact that must be faced and dealt with. You have all done that, and with extraordinary courage.

Here are just a few examples. After an operation on her tongue, Marcia Williams Kling took speech therapy and within 4 months was back entertaining preschoolers on her own television program. Connie Haines also beat cancer and continues to entertain the public. After two operations and 3 years of chemotherapy, Connie is back and as melodious as ever.

I was interested in discovering that members of this group not only have shown courage in a difficult time but truly achieved triumphant victories over the physical aftereffects of cancer. Just look at how the members of this group spend their spare time: camping, motorcycling, swimming, and running. In spite of an amputated leg, one Courage Award winner is a silver medalist in three-track snow skiing at the Special Winter Games. Others have enrolled in a wilderness survival program or else used their excess energy in engaging in ballet, gymnastics, soccer, or judo.

Another one of the Courage Award winners is a remarkable young man. And when I say young, I mean young. He was 6 when they found he had cancer in his body. They didn't give him much chance to survive. But Jason Gaes did. Here's what he has to say: "The reason I wanted to write a book about having cancer is because in every book I read about kids with cancer they always die. I want to tell you kids don't always die. If you get cancer, don't be scared, cause lots of people get over having cancer and grow up without dying, like Mike Nelson and Doug Cerny and Vince Varpness and President Reagan and me." [Laughter] Those are the words I'm reading from his book.

Well, it's an honor being in Jason's book, but every one of the American Cancer Society Courage Award winners is very special. You're here to be recognized for your courage and for your zest for life, and I'm proud to salute you all today.

And I'm proud to present to you, Jill Ireland, the 1988 Cancer Courage Award. Jill and Charlie [Bronson], your courageous battle against cancer is an inspiration to others. In the acknowledgement to your book, "Life Wish," you write that upon being told about the cancer you would have loved to talk to someone who had had the disease. Well, by sharing your story, the fears and the triumphs, you've become a companion for the many others going through the isolation of catastrophic illness. And for that, I thank you. And on behalf of the many whose lives you've touched, it is my honor to present to you this award.

Ms. Ireland. Thank you, Mr. President. From one survivor to another, I accept this prestigious award on behalf of my family, myself, and I share it with cancer patients everywhere. Thank you.

Mr. Eyre. Mrs. Reagan, we owe you a special debt of gratitude for speaking up so frankly about your personal experience with breast cancer. You have reported and renewed confidence in the use of mammography, a lifesaving technique. You are a visible example of strength and courage to women and Americans all across the Nation. We feel proud to honor you as the recipient of the American Cancer Society Courage Award. And to present this award, I would like to ask Chairman Kay Horsch to join me.

Mrs. Horsch. "The American Cancer Society salutes Nancy Reagan for her personal courage in her battle against cancer and for the hope and inspiration she gives all Americans in the fight for life and health, 1988, signed Ronald Reagan."

Mrs. Reagan. Thank you very much. I'm very honored to receive this award from Ronald Reagan. [Laughter] I can't say that it's an award that I dreamed of getting when I was growing up, but that's what happens sometimes in life. And if you can help other people to deal with this problem, then that makes you feel good. And I hope that's what's happened. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:47 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Harmon J. Eyre was president of the American Cancer Society.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the American Cancer Society Courage Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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