Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. They are two of the most world-famous athletes of all time, yet they both share one blemish on their resumes. To protect their marketability – and in turn, their massive fortunes – neither athlete has ever taken a stand on any divisive social issue. To quote Jordan, “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

The story of Lance Armstrong overcoming testicular cancer to win a record seven Tour de France titles has reached mythic status. Armstrong parlayed his fame into promoting a cause that hits very close to home for him. While cancer is not the most divisive social issue, it’s much more than Woods or Jordan has ever done.

Cancer accounts for one out of every four deaths in America. It kills over 2400 children every year. President Bush, however, has cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute during his time in office.

On Aug. 27 and 28 Armstrong and MSNBC cosponsored a presidential debate focusing on health issues, specifically cancer. Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards showed up, but Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain did not. Big deal, you say? Well, Giuliani and McCain are both cancer survivors. Giuliani had prostate cancer and McCain had melanoma. You would think they would be somewhat sympathetic to the cause.

It gets worse. The Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 20 that under the proposed healthcare plans of Giuliani and McCain, “cancer survivors such as [the two candidates] could not be sure of getting coverage.” Regardless of political affiliation, it should be clear many of the presidential candidates choose stances that help their electability – rather than from their personal beliefs.

I am not attempting to sell a particular candidate. I simply wish to open some eyes about what should be a huge concern for all Americans. The end of the fight against cancer may be in sight, but the funding and persistence to find a cure must continue.

About two months ago, researchers uncovered a way to make mature human cells behave just like embryonic stem cells. This means Republicans and Democrats don’t have to fight over the ethics of using frozen embryos for scientific research. Some researchers, such as Dr. Michael Clarke at Stanford, believe cancer cells even possess the same properties as stem cells. Stem cells might hold the key to solving the mystery behind many kinds of cancers.

While cancer death rates have slowly declined over the past few years, according to Dept. of Health and Human Services, the “age-adjusted incidence rates for all cancers combined were stable from 1995-2003 in men, but rates in women have increased .3 percent annually since 1987.” Despite so much private and public funding, these rates have not decreased. Instead, there has been a rise in other factors causing cancer.

Everyone knows of the traditional links to cancer – tobacco and alcohol abuse, radiation, obesity, overexposure to sunlight and family history. Many other links to cancer are just slowly coming to light, but are still being hotly debated.

Despite all the negative news, much of your risk is within your own control. Unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are directly linked to cancer. Get your heart pumping every so often. For those who do not exercise at all, simply adding 30 minutes of walking 3 times a week can help dramatically reduce your risk for a whole host of diseases, including cancer.

Try to eat foods with lots of antioxidants to make up for all the junk food. Blueberries, broccoli, green tea and even wine all have loads of antioxidants that help kill the free radicals that cause cancer.

Eat organic whenever you can. Foods grown with pesticides or animals raised on hormones are likely to increase your risk of cancer. Fill your diet with whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes and good fats. More than anything else, be it genetics, drugs or the environment, you play the most important role in lowering your risk for cancer. Why not use it?

Cancer has affected every American family in some shape or form. We should applaud Lance Armstrong for not being like Michael Jordan, and scold Rudy Giuliani and John McCain for not making cancer a high priority.