As you know from my previous blog, my birthday was spent in Washington, D.C. meeting with members of Congress to discuss cancer-related bills and issues. I meant to write a follow up immediately after my return……but, well, personal and work ‘stuff’ has provided very little free time (I won’t share how little time has been spent on my bike seat. Insert sad face).
Quite frankly, some of my time has been spent fighting back against the latest proposed disaster of a healthcare bill. This newly proposed bill would have detrimental effects on millions of people, including those with pre-existing conditions. In fact, I encourage you to call your Senator now to ask them to vote NO on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. You can click here for a list of Senate phone numbers.
Thankfully, my time spent in D.C. was successful, fun and motivating. I joined 400+ volunteer leaders and staff of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network at a leadership summit and lobby day, where we talked to our legislators about important cancer-related issues. Our requests included:
- Increase funding for research at the National Institutes of Health to $36 billion;
- Support the Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act (H.R.1676/S.693)
- Support the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act (H.R.1017/S.479)
There is something about being in a room with 400+ cancer advocates….empowering and motivating. There is something about standing with dozens of other cancer survivors…hopeful and grateful. There is something about meeting with elected representatives to work toward a common cause…..exciting and satisfying.
Our first two meetings were with our Michigan senators. Both are supporters of our many cancer-related priorities, which I’m grateful. I always enjoy meeting with my senators and their staffs, who are friendly and welcoming. After those meetings, our group split into smaller groups for meeting with our representatives from our home districts. I attended several of these House meetings, all productive. I particularly enjoyed meeting with Rep. Sander Levin. We had an energizing conversation about health care. All in all our meetings were productive and promising in the fight against cancer.
The evening brought the Lights of Hope ceremony. This touching event included more than 25,000 tribute luminaries lining the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Each bag represented a cancer survivor or someone who died from the disease. It was an emotional journey as I walked among the bags, many decorated with pictures, messages and items of memories. Somehow, both my honor bag and my dad’s memory bag ended up beside each other. I admit as I stared at those two bags, for a moment I felt alone. I missed him deeply in that moment, overwhelmed with the ongoing question of how I survived and he did not. Yet, as I looked around the reflecting pool, at the thousands of bags lit to reflect unity against a disease, knowing I am one of millions who fight daily to make a difference against cancer, I felt comfort too.
I’ve been asked many times over the past 20 years why I put so much energy into this fight. People wonder if I feel obligated. There is some truth to that. Even though I know my dad would say don’t feel obligated, live your life for you. Yet this is my life, and I like it, I appreciate it. I thrive in the environment of helping others, standing together to fight back against a disease that knows no boundaries in who it touches. Or takes from us. I am alive, with a voice that can share my story, and his story. A voice to talk to members of Congress, doctors, health care executives, fellow cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates. I am alive with a voice so that even those who can’t speak, those in a hospital getting treatment, those too sick or tired or scared, still have a voice.
While I may feel a little obligated to speak out as I breathe, I mostly feel great passion and motivation to work for a positive change that can help others affected by cancer. There is a deep genuine belief in me that if we wrap our arms around the good, the strong, the dedicated, if we all as individuals stand together, this disease will not win.
This disease has changed my life in many ways. It has broken me, motivated me, led me down many new paths, taken people, and brought people to my life. It is the one thing I think of every day for the past 20 years. It has taught me to stand up to fear and anger, embrace love, hope and kindness, grow courage and strength and motivation, seek love and laughter, enjoy the simple things. It has shown me that one person can make a difference to someone, and many people can impact millions.
I invite you to be the one person to join the many. Get involved. Make a difference. You can get started by checking out the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wherever you live.