I had an amazing experience last week. I had the privilege, honor and fun of representing LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) lobby day in Washington, DC. I joined more than 100+ advocates from 35 states to have over 160 meetings with our legislative officials to ensure fighting cancer is a priority for our government.
One Voice Against Cancer is a collaboration of national non-profits delivering a unified message on the need for increased cancer-related appropriations. OVAC has made great strides in getting Congress to increase funding for cancer research and prevention programs. But of course, the work is far from done. Not when one out of four deaths in the U.S. will be caused by cancer. I’ve been fortunate to advocate with several organizations in DC in the past. Last year, I attended OVAC with LIVESTRONG, refreshing my energy and drive to make a difference (read about last year’s experience!). So I was very excited to be selected to attend again.
I have always been interested in politics and love advocating on behalf of others affected by this disease. I wouldn’t say that I feel an obligation as a bone cancer survivor, yet I feel so grateful and blessed to be alive that it fills me with a deep satisfaction and I truly thrive in the environment. It’s so empowering and rewarding as a cancer survivor to work with other advocates, our elected officials and their staffs to make cancer research, prevention, programs and healthcare a priority. I have always believed that it take one person to make a positive change and I’m giddy when I think of the tremendous outcomes possible when all of us work together for positive change.
Support $36.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health
Support $6 billion to the National Cancer Institute
Support $514 million for the Centers for Disease and Control cancer prevention programs
Two other women from Michigan attended OVAC so we teamed up to attend five meetings with our various senators and Congressmen. All our legislators agreed that funding for cancer research and prevention is critical and also agreed that any slowing or cutting of funds would mean death for too many people. We know this budget process is going to be….challenging, to say the least, so we, of course, will continue to follow with the offices to ensure our representatives stay committed to helping millions of people.
This trip was also a bit poignant for me….last Thursday was 20 years since I started
chemotherapy for bone cancer. I can vividly recall being at the hospital, port inserted in my chest and IV drip starting, waiting for the throwing up to begin and my hair to fall out (throwing up started four days later, my hair fell out six days later). To be in DC, almost exactly 20 years later, advocating for other cancer survivors and representing those no longer with us truly felt like a beautiful full circle.
One of my favorite pieces of this experience is, of course, the people who also attend as staff and advocates. We all come with our individual stories, whether we’re cancer survivors, caregivers, family members, friends of someone facing the disease. Yet we immediately have this common bond of cancer touching our lives, bringing us together in the fight. Each person’s story weaves into my heart and stays with me as I walk into legislative meetings and after I return home. Many of these people have become good friends, creating those bonds you know will travel long into your life. In these people, I actually smile at cancer because through the tears, sadness, anxiety and stress that cancer causes, I think of these friends and feel joy and laughter. Cancer causes such chaos and the people I meet are the beauty, the anchors to the chaos.
I was also honored to be asked to share my cancer story as our send-off speech. My cancer story can’t be shared without sharing my dad’s story, as our treatments and outcomes are forever intermingled. Both my dad and I are examples of the impact of cancer research and treatment. Not so many years before my diagnosis, amputation was a common treatment option. Thankfully, research, better treatment protocols and new technology led to advances in killing tumors and trying limb salvage so that my femur and part of my tibia were replaced with titanium rather than amputated.
My dad wasn’t given a good prognosis when we received his multiple myeloma diagnosis. However, research and new treatment options kept us one step ahead of his cancer for six years, until there were no more new drugs to try. But I will forever be grateful for those six years with him, precious moments to create so many memories to hold in my heart and mind. I know that he is beside me every time I walk into an office to ask for support.
These are a few reasons that I advocate for funding for cancer research and prevention. There are millions more…..more than 1.7 million Americans will hear “You have cancer” this year, and more than 15.5 million cancer survivors will learn to navigate their new normal. Families and friends will say good bye to an estimated 1,645 people a day. So, yes, my friends, there is a lot of motivation to get involved.
Attending this year’s OVAC was another wonderful experience working to help others. I never tire of these experiences, for I am alive to celebrate another day. And I believe that each success we have ensures thousands of others will be alive to celebrate too.