‘Cancer touches all of us’: In San Diego, first lady highlights cancer screening, military families

A smiling blond woman stands on a tarmac at the foot of a set of airplane stairs surrounded by people in suits
First Lady Jill Biden is greeted at the airport Friday by Mayor Todd Gloria, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas, Jamul Indian Village Chairwoman Erica Pinto and Reps. Sara Jacobs and Scott Peters.
(Meg McLaughlin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

On a visit to San Diego to highlight the administration’s “cancer moonshot” and initiatives for military families, First Lady Jill Biden toured a Logan Heights health clinic Friday to discuss a $100,000 cancer screening grant, before greeting crew members of the USS Gabrielle Giffords warship based at Naval Base San Diego.

“Cancer touches all of us; the Bidens are no exception,” said Biden, who herself had surgery last month to remove a common type of skin cancer and lost a stepson, Beau Biden, to cancer in 2015.

In a roundtable with providers at Logan Heights Family Health Center, she discussed federal efforts to improve cancer screenings and early detection programs for communities with limited healthcare access.


The administration’s moonshot initiative, which Joe Biden spearheaded while vice president, aims to improve cancer treatments and conditions for patients and to cut cancer death rates in half within a generation. Its goals include resuming screenings missed because of the pandemic, reducing smoking rates and getting more patients into clinical trials.

The first lady began advocating for cancer education and prevention in 1993, when four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, and later launched an initiative to educate Delaware high school girls about the importance of breast cancer prevention. She has called for improving cancer screenings, especially those delayed because of the pandemic.

In September, the moonshot program awarded $100,000 to the health center for health navigators and outreach specialists to promote early detection, boost screenings and guide patients to high-quality cancer care and treatment. On Thursday, the Biden administration announced an $11-million grant to fund similar programs at 22 other clinics throughout the country.

Those services are important to help people unfamiliar with healthcare systems manage the shock of a cancer diagnosis and the complex decisions that often must follow, the first lady said.

“You hear cancer, and you don’t hear anything else,” she said.

Christopher Gordon, the chief medical officer for Family Health Centers of San Diego, said the grant enables the clinic to help newly diagnosed patients make sense of their treatment options and medical trials and overcome obstacles to care. Clinic officials are measuring how those services affect survival rates and patient outcomes, he said.

Two women, one wearing a suit and one wearing a white coat, sit at a conference table in a medical office and laugh.
First Lady Jill Biden, right, and Dr. Sandra Cervantes, chief of obstetrics and gynecology, laugh during a roundtable discussion at the Logan Heights Family Health Center on Friday.
(Meg McLaughlin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Early detection is the key,” Biden said. “A lot of cancers are curable, and you don’t need to be afraid.”

The first lady next stopped at the USS Gabrielle Giffords to greet about 20 crew members and deliver pizzas from Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Co. Before boarding the ship, which she christened in 2015, Biden changed from the heels she had been wearing into sneakers, in order to climb ladders on the vessel.

Her final stop was a dinner hosted by the Armed Services YMCA for other Gabrielle Giffords crew members and their families.

“Seeing it today, it’s hard to believe that it was eight years ago that we christened the ship,” she told the sailors, many of them joined by their spouses and children wearing party dresses and tiny suits.

Biden acknowledged the role military families play in supporting service members, calling them as critical to the military mission “as the engine is to the ship.”

“Your health and your happiness matter to us,” she said. “We have to make sure service is a matter of dignity and honor, pride and accomplishment for your entire family.”

First lady Dr. Jill Biden along with Megan Miller and Annie Rafferty,
First Lady Jill Biden poses with Megan Miller and Annie Rafferty for a photo using the “V” for Villanova gesture at the Admiral Kidd Catering & Conference Center on Friday.
(Meg McLaughlin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Rep. Sara Jacobs, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and was among the elected officials who greeted the first lady at the airport, said she and Biden discussed priorities such as child care for military families during the visit.

After her remarks, Biden stepped behind the dessert bar, where she chatted and took photos with guests while serving mini cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies.

Annie Rafferty, ship navigator for the Gabrielle Giffords, took pictures with her friends and the first lady, flashing a hand signal of the alma mater they share — Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

“She is just so personable and genuine and authentic,” Rafferty said of the first lady. “She’s just so relatable as a teacher, a mother and grandmother.”

Amanda Ingalls-Brunzell posed with her 4-month-old daughter, Ellison Brunzell, dressed in a tiny navy-and-white sailor dress and matching bow. “It’s just so great that she wants to work with military families,” said Ingalls-Brunzell of the first lady.


On Saturday, Biden is expected to visit the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego in Oceanside to meet with healthcare providers and military families.