Why Did I go to Jail Protesting the TPP?

This video of my arrest in Atlanta. Here is my statement from the press conference before the arrest, explaining why I am involved

Zahara Heckscher, Cancer Patient
Media Statement on TPP and Access to Cancer Medicines

Contact: 202-489-8908
September 30, 2015

I am Zahara Heckscher, a mother, wife, writer, and educator. Seven years ago this week I received the chilling news that I had invasive breast cancer. The diagnosis was especially devastating because my son was only 3 years old. But today, even though my cancer is considered advanced, and my current treatment includes chemotherapy, I think of myself as a Cancer Thriver. My life is full and rich. I was able to be there for my son’s 10th birthday party. I stay busy and prodictive with work, biking, stand up paddling, as well as PTA meetings and taking my boy to baseball practice and soccer games.

I am alive and thriving today in large part because I have had access to the latest medicines for breast cancer. My treatment has included new biological medicines, or biologics: the monoclonal antibodies trastuzumab (Hercepin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta) and denosumab (Xgeva). These and similar medicines have extended and even saved the lives of thousands of women with breast cancer. The additional biologics in the pipeline give so much hope to me and other people living with cancer.

Sadly, I know all too well what cancer can mean without these breakthrough treatments. Let’s go back to September 8, 1976. It’s the day before I start junior high. It’s four days before I turn 12. That was the day my mother died of breast cancer, less than one year after her diagnosis. That is what cancer means without access to new treatment. I am a writer, but I am at a loss to find the words to tell you how awful it was for me, my brother and my sister, as well as my father, to go on without her.

For my mother to die of breast cancer was a tragedy for our family.

For thousands of women to die unnecessary of breast cancer because of the TPP is a horrible, cruel, premeditated, and avoidable catastrophe.

The majority of women with breast cancer are mothers. So breast cancer is not only an illness that strikes down women in their prime; it also creates devastating effects on the children and partners of its victims, lifelong damage to families — because you can never fully recover if you lose your mother when you are a child.

And that is why I am here. The provisions under consideration by the TPP would allow drug monopolies on biologics for 8 years.  Some of these medicines cost up to tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. When you have breast cancer today, you can’t wait 8 years for a treatment to become available or affordable. When you have cancer, even a one year delay in affordable medicine can be a death sentence. That is why we call this proposed provision of the TPP a death sentence clause. If it passes, thousands of women like me will die waiting. It also means that here in the US, we’ll be locked in to long waiting times for affordable new medicines. Any efforts to reduce wait times could be struck down by undemocratic trade tribunals. This is unacceptable to me, to other people with cancer, and to our friends and families.

You might ask, if I oppose extended monopolies, am I anti-research? Of course not. I am currently in a clinical trial and I am happy that I can contribute my time and my cancer cells to scientific advancement. I have a degree in biology and even worked as an intern in a research lab that made monoclonal anti-bodies. Medical research is keeping me alive.

I am pro-research and pro-access. Don’t be confused by arguments that conflate the death sentence clause with the ability to advance medical research. Big pharma is doing fine without this extra 8 year monopoly. Extra revenue from monopolies may bloat already high profits, may puff up advertising budgets, but this extended monopoly period is not required for pharmaceutical companies, or the NIH, or nonprofits, or universities to continue investing in cutting edge medical research.

Now let’s go to the future. It’s 2018. A 7 year old girl’s mother sits her down to explain, mama has an illness called breast cancer. If today, we can prevent the death sentence clause, there will be a better chance to get her mother affordable biologics on the market sooner — and a better chance that this girl will have her mother there to nurture her as she grows up, the same chance I hope to have to continue being there for my son.

This is why we must act today.

I am here to remind Ambassador Froman and the USTR team that the policies they promote are supposed to represent the interests of the people of the US, not just the short term greed of the giant pharmaceutical companies.

And I also call on the trade ministers for other countries to continue to stand strong against the death sentence clause.

I am honored to bring with me the names of hundreds of people with me, including cancer survivors, who join me in our plea to the TPP negotiators. We speak with one voice: Drop the TPP death sentence clause.

# # #


About Zahara Heckscher

Writer, educator, social justice advocate. Co-author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas (Penguin, 2002) and forthcoming Volunteer Travel Reimagined: The Learning Service Guide. Instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD and co-inventor of The Poetry Game. Mom, wife, cancer thriver, advocate for a world of justice.
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