WASHINGTON (AP) - Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, lost a child to cancer 53 years ago, but they're still fighting for cancer research and prevention.
"Maybe one of the reasons I am so devoted to the cancer cause is that because I know this is one fight we can win and will win. We must," Bush told an international cancer conference Saturday night. But, he added, "We simply can't expect to hold back the growing worldwide epidemic of cancer on less than a shoestring budget."
The Bush's second child, Robin, died of leukemia at age 3. Afterward, Barbara Bush overcame a serious bout of depression by throwing herself into volunteer work. She has said she might have become a nurse if she hadn't married Bush.
"Our interest in cancer began - as it does with most people drawn to this cause - with the loss of a loved one," she recalled. "When our doctor told us our little girl had leukemia, we were shocked. We had barely heard of the disease."
Research since then have raised the possibility that the cure rate for leukemia, once an almost universally fatal childhood cancer, could reach 90 percent soon, she said.
"The not so good news is that this rosy picture is not the case in the developing countries, where the vast majority of children with cancer are still dying," she said. "Despite all the great strides that have been made since Robin died, cancer is still the second highest cause of death in children between the ages of one to 14 worldwide."
But the former first lady sought to encourage the 2,000 scientists, doctors, researchers, health officials and public health care advocates at the conference.
"My pledge to you is that we will not consider our job done until we make surviving childhood cancer the rule, not the exception, in every corner of the world," she said, praising the advances in knowledge about cancer and the possibilities for treatment since Robin's death.
In 2005, cancer claimed 7.6 million lives - accounting for more than one in eight deaths worldwide.
Now in their early 80s, the Bushes are co-chairs of C-Change, a U.S.-based coalition of business, government and nonprofit leaders in cancer prevention. That and other causes have kept the former president busy since losing the White House to Bill Clinton in 1992 - an experience he said wasn't all bad.
"I think he did me a huge favor, incidentally," Bush added.
On the Net:
International Union Against Cancer: http://www.uicc.org