As a staunch advocate for the advancement of cancer treatments, research, and patient care, President George H.W. Bush left an enduring legacy through contributions to the field of oncology and health care in the wake of his death on November 30, 2018. His continued support of healthcare professionals—including oncology nurses—spoke to his administration’s focus before, during, and after his tenure in Washington, DC.
Former President Bush was the first to select a nurse—ONS member and ONS Past President Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN—to serve on the National Cancer Advisory Board, recognizing the important perspective and expertise that nursing brings to the cancer conversation. He was also responsible for appointing Bernadine Healy, MD, to serve as the head of the National Institutes of Health—the first woman to ever hold the role.
Upon leaving the White House, former President and First Lady Bush founded C-Change: Collaborating to Conquer Cancer, an initiative that brought together experts from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to advance cancer prevention, early detection, research, and treatment efforts. Starting in 1998, C-Change worked to improve the trajectory of cancer care and help eliminate cancer’s burden as a major health concern for U.S. residents.
As a forerunner to the Cancer Moonshot, C-Change laid the foundation for engendering communication and collaboration among cancer care’s different sectors. Ultimately, C-Change closed its doors in April 2017 after nearly 20 years of service, contributing to countless research and clinical practice advancements for patients with cancer.
ONS member Helene Brown had worked closely with the Bush family and recalls the former president’s attention to making progress in cancer research. “The only thing that will turn the tide on cancer mortality is research,” Brown said. “With funding that exceeded that which was available at the time, we could make greater strides quicker—that’s why former President Bush and the First Lady signed on to chair the Dialogue on Cancer, which became C-Change. They were the helmsmen for more than a decade, and their efforts will never be forgotten.”
The former President and First Lady were deeply entrenched in the fight against cancer. In October 1953, they lost their three-year-old daughter to leukemia. From that point on, they made supporting cancer initiatives, healthcare programs, and charitable organizations a priority in their lives to help address the needs of patients with cancer. Through public and private programs, the former President and First Lady advocated for positive change in cancer research, treatment, and care, serving on several committees, including the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors in their former hometown of Houston, TX. The George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research at MD Anderson has also raised more than $50 million for cancer research grants and fellowships for oncology scientists.
President Bush was laid to rest at his presidential library in College Station, TX, on December 6, 2018, after receiving a state funeral in Washington, DC, in the days prior.