Why I’m a cancer advocate

I often get asked why I’m a cancer advocate. Why do I spend so much of my personal time and energy volunteering to work with legislators, doctors and others to fight this disease?

The simple answer, of course, is that I’m a cancer survivor. I cleared cancer three times. By the grace of God, the universe, science, good doctors, and advocates fighting the disease long before me, I am alive.

Also thanks to research, new treatment options, screenings, access to care. I truly believe these factors helped save my life….three times.

But the other, more emotional answer is because I want to help others…..whether a cancer survivor, caregiver, or hopefully the person who never hears those fateful words ‘it’s cancer.’

Be the positive change

I’m a big believer that it takes one person to start positive change. And if each of us individually comes together for a good cause and to help others? Wow, we can do some good.

I sometimes hear other cancer survivors, or those affected by other diseases, talk about the ‘obligation of the cured,’ meaning you may feel obligated to give back. But I don’t ever feel obligated. If anything I feel gratitude and desire to make a difference as others did before me. I want to be part of the solution! Helping people is one of my passions.

This disease has taken so much from me. So much. And while I try to focus on the good things and amazing people that came to my life through my cancer journey, I don’t want others to hear those fateful words if possible.

Coming together for a common cause

Cancer doesn’t care who you are. Your skin color, where you live, your job, relationship status, how much money you make, your political party. Nope, it doesn’t care.

(I realize that I’m casting broad net as we also know that your economic level and geography does sometimes impact diagnosis and care. And your lifestyle and family history can also affect your risk. But my point is that at the end of the day, cancer will strike whenever it feels like it.)

But the good news is that millions of people DO care. And so we come together to fight the disease. And help others.

When people ask why I’m a cancer advocate, I think of the following.

Working with our legislators is one way to advocate for change
  • My younger sister is a melanoma survivor. Research helped her doctor diagnose her early.
  • My dad was initially given three months to live with his late-stage multiple myeloma diagnosis. Research and new treatment options gave us six years together.
  • Women and men diagnosed with cancer during child-bearing years can have access to fertility assistance. Cancer should not take away your wish of having a child (read this post for fertility resources for cancer survivors).
  • A preventive screening mammogram caught my breast cancer at the earliest stage. The Affordable Care Act and certain state programs help ensure screenings like this are available to help prevent or catch cancer early when it’s most survivable (and lower costs). (Click here for Michigan’s cancer prevention/support programs. Check your state’s health and human services department for similar programs.)
  • Childhood cancer survivors, like my friend Terry, have access to long-term survivor clinics to ensure side effects and organ issues are detected early and managed.
  • Too many families, including mine, say good-bye to a loved one dying from cancer. I don’t others to feel that heartbreak.
  • My friend, Jeff, had access to care and research as a male breast cancer survivor.
  • A patient doesn’t pay more for oral chemo than IV chemo. Michigan’s lack of oral chemo parity can potentially prevent them from having access to a life-saving drug.
  • My friends, Cassandra, Mary, Ronda and too many others, who, like me, face side effects from treatment. It motivates me to make certain that funding for research is available. so there can someday be treatment options without so many side effects.
  • Millions of children have a parent affected by cancer, including my young nieces and nephew. I want to help ensure those parents are alive for all of their children’s milestones.
  • The cancer journey doesn’t end when treatment does. Survivorship care plans are critical to ensuring proper follow up care is planned for and available to patients. Many adult cancer centers still don’t regularly provide these plans to patients. The U.S. insurance industry is a challenge for most people to have access to affordable medical coverage. While I am fortunate to have great insurance, even I spent more time dealing with coverage and confusion from the insurance company than I did my entire treatment for my third cancer. A cancer diagnosis is one step away from bankruptcy for many people. It should not be.
  • It’s estimated 1,898,160 people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and over 608,000 will die, according to the American Cancer Society. One is too many.

Mostly, I don’t want others to hear ‘it’s cancer’ as I did three times. I want to spare others the feeling of your world shattering and the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and more creeping in because of a disease you did not ask for.

These are just a few of the millions of reasons why I’m a cancer advocate.

There are a lot of simple, yet impactful, opportunities to help fight cancer. Or any social issue that you’re passionate about (here are five ways to advocate for change). I encourage you to get involved, use your voice for good.

Always remember that together we can make a positive change in the world.

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