Biden Praises Doctor for 'Trying to Save' Son Beau as First Family Opens Up at 'Cancer Moonshot' Kickoff

The Biden administration is reigniting an effort to reduce deaths from cancer and change the lives of those dealing with a diagnosis

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

It was an emotional day at the White House Wednesday, when President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris all spoke about the administration's renewed "Cancer Moonshot" initiative and the disease which has darkened each of their lives.

"See that doctor on the end there?" the president, 79, said at the start of the event, acknowledging Dr. W.K. Alfred Yung, who treated the president's oldest son, Beau Biden, before his 2015 death at 46 of brain cancer.

"That's the man who spent 18 months trying to save our son's life. Doctor, I love you. The whole family loves you," the president said.

He praised Dr. Yung's "optimism and fearlessness," saying that's "what the 'Cancer Moonshot' is all about."

The renewed effort — which began during the Obama administration under then-Vice President Biden's leadership — is focused on reducing deaths from cancer by 50 percent in the next 25 years and to improve the lives of people and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

"I committed to this fight when I was vice president," Biden said Wednesday. "It's one of the reasons why, quite frankly, I ran for president. Let there be no doubt: Now that I am president, this is a presidential White House priority — period."

The first lady also spoke at the kickoff. "Certain words have the power to make time stop: Malignant. Aggressive. Terminal. Cancer," she said. "Like a spell, they still the air around us. Frozen in place, we feel the world we knew slipping away. In the span of a breath, a thousand questions fill our minds. 'What can I do? How do I tell people? Why did this happen?' "

Jill Biden
Jill Biden. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Dr. Biden has leaned on some of the painful experiences in life to guide what she called a "healing role" as first lady.

"Cancer changes everyone it touches," she said Wednesday. "For Joe and me, it has stolen our joy. It left us broken in our grief. But through that pain, we found purpose, strengthening our fortitude for this fight to end cancer as we know it."

She also spoke about loved ones dying of breast cancer, which prompted her last year to encourage women to get mammograms.

"Almost 30 years ago, four of my friends were diagnosed with breast cancer in one year," she said. "And one of my dear friends, Winnie, lost her battle. Winnie inspired me to take up the cause of prevention and education."

Vice President Harris likewise spoke about the issue in personal terms, praising the work of her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a scientist and breast cancer researcher who died of colon cancer in 2009.

Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

"My mother's discoveries helped save women's lives, and I am so proud that she brought our nation and our world closer to the goal of ending breast cancer as we know it," Harris said.

The day she learned her mom, who had worked hard to fight the disease, would become sick with it was "one of the worst days of my life and an experience that, sadly, millions and millions of people in our country have had."

Harris spoke about caring for her mom during her mom's months-long "courageous fight" that ended in hospice care.

"One of the last questions she asked the hospice nurse was, 'Are my daughters going to be okay?'" the vice president said. "I miss my mother every day, and I carry her memory with me wherever I go."

The painful experience, she added, is shared by so many, including the Bidens.

"The president's 'Cancer Moonshot' demonstrates who he, our president, is," she said. "Because as you all know, out of his personal pain, he launched an initiative — this initiative that will help countless lives, the lives of people he may never meet."

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