Somewhere back around 1963, my father found a collapsed weather balloon out in the sagebrush of western Utah. Attached to it was a parachute, and he thought that might be fun for his kids to play with.

And it was fun. I would run up and down the sidewalk in front of our home in Provo, pulling the parachute behind me. I played with it for hours and days. None of us ever suspected that weather balloon might have been radioactive — that it had been part of an atmospheric nuclear-weapons test. They were still going on back then.

Fast-forward 39 years. A broken rib led to the discovery of a tumor in my chest and a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, one of the cancers associated with radiation exposure. Over the past 13 years, I’ve had two stem-cell transplants, radiation and various forms of chemotherapy. I’m still here and in relatively good shape, thanks to the excellent care I’ve received at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital.

The caregivers and researchers at the Huntsman Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Institute are getting some welcome recognition this week with a visit from Vice President Joe Biden. I am one among many patients taking part in studies and clinical trials there that will lead to improved drugs and treatments for the whole range of cancers.

That’s a word I wish were used more often. We’ll never cure “cancer.” It’s not a single disease. Perhaps it doesn’t sound as aggressive when we say we want to cure “cancers.” It doesn’t help to use a “moon shot” analogy when we realize we can’t possibly point the rocket in all the directions it needs to go.

We also need to stop being naïve about the economic interests served in caring for cancer patients and conducting research into what is making them sick. Cancer clinics, drug companies and research institutes are all major employers. Cancer is an industry that supports the livelihoods of thousands upon thousands of Americans.

We also need to recognize that the best, most current, most technologically advanced treatments are useless to someone without health care coverage. Cancer treatment is typically not administered in the emergency room. A lack of coverage could lead someone to ignore symptoms until a cancer is so advanced that little can be done.

As a cancer patient, I’ve come to appreciate and rely on the talents of staff in the various clinics. You see the nurses, physician assistants, lab technicians, social workers and others far more often than you see the doctor. They work the miracles that allow me and other patients to live our lives more or less normally.

Surprisingly, the one hospital staff member who did more to ease my fears after my initial diagnosis than any other was the financial counselor. Thanks to her, I no longer believed that cancer was going to leave me miserable and destitute. With that hurdle overcome, I could focus on the medical issues.

So let’s get busy, Mr. Vice President. Let’s attack the cancers that plague us on a hundred different fronts. Instead of describing the effort as a “moon shot,” let’s use a different analogy. How about a school, where the individual needs of students are understood by caring teachers. What happens to each of them is important. What happens to each of us as patients is important, and the approach caregivers take to each patient needs to be thought through in a unique way.

The best schools are striving to get better. The best hospitals and clinics are improving in the same way. And if we cure something along the way, well, nobody would be happier to graduate from this course of study than me.

Dan Bammes has been a patient attending Huntsman Cancer Institute for 13 years.