When Rep. Michael McCaul was in grade school, he lost his best friend to cancer. It has always affected him, especially when he meets with constituents whose children are sick.
And then three years ago, he met an inspiring new friend.
Sadie Keller was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015 when she was seven. She came to Capitol Hill from Texas to lobby Congress in March 2016 and met McCaul for the first time.
“I met him and I told him everything, what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish. He said that was awesome,” said Sadie, now 10.
She was lobbying for McCaul’s RACE Act, which became law last August as part of the FDA Reauthorization Act. It allows the most innovative adult treatments for cancer to be studied for use in children.
McCaul said when Sadie first came to Capitol Hill, “she was in remission on a mission,” McCaul said. She completed her 2 1/2 years of treatment at the end of May 2017.
“She’s kind of become my buddy,” McCaul said. “She came up to Capitol Hill with probably, I think, one of the most worthwhile causes because it is the number one killer of our children. I don’t think members understand that. She’s really our best advocate.”
After that first meeting, the congressman brought her to the House floor to meet his colleagues.
“She’s like the best — these kids, they don’t have lobbyists — but the best advocate is them coming up here,” McCaul said.
“It’s really cool,” Sadie said.
The two then went to the Speaker’s Balcony. They took a photograph, and McCaul saw the sky captured in it as a metaphor.
“It’s kind of like the ominous clouds outside, so that’s the ominous thing about childhood cancer. But there are rays of sunshine coming down, so there’s some good coming out of this. We’re looking forward to the future and a vision of eradicating this disease,” the congressman said.
After the success of the RACE Act, the two are working on the STAR Act, which would step up efforts to identify childhood cancer incidences, improve the quality of life for survivors, and target opportunities to expand research on therapeutics.
On her latest trip in February, Sadie presented an idea to McCaul for the Stamp Out Childhood Cancer Act. McCaul showed interest in the proposal and is exploring legislative opportunities in Congress.
Sadie, who enjoys drawing, drew some stamps to promote it.
“This picture is … my friend, [also named] Sadie, who passed away not that long ago, and this is me, like, holding her hand. Her parents and her friends would call her ‘Sadie Bug,’ so I put a ladybug on her wing. All the colors are supposed to resemble happiness in the world,” Keller explained.
She drew a self-portrait on her second stamp.
“This is me. It was a hard day at clinic one day, or at the hospital, so I was laying down on a hospital bed and then all these flowers going into black and darkness, is how I turned a bad situation into a good situation with my diagnosis,” she said.
McCaul added, “These kids are brave. To try and turn a bad experience into a positive is really kind of a life lesson for all of us. She’s been very inspirational.”