Stormin’ the Capitol: Advocacy Day on the Hill

I have never been very political, but I think I am a good citizen. Until recently, I did not think that I had enough expertise to advocate for a change in public policy. I did not think that politicians would want to hear anything that I had to say. Still, I knew that I wanted to promote change, especially because of my personal experiences.

Not Just a Number

I am a cancer patient. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Only 5% of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years after their diagnosis. I am one of the lucky ones.

We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. You may have a friend whose parent was diagnosed with cancer. You may have a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer, or you may know someone who has passed away from cancer. Many organizations provide valuable support and resources for patients and their families struggling with cancer issues.

Pancreatic cancer has had high visibility in the media, especially since Randy Pausch and Patrick Swayze made national headlines. Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He passed away from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008. Swayze, an actor best known for his role in the movie Dirty Dancing, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of 2008. Swayze also passed away on September 14, 2009.

Unfortunately, lack of federal funding has delayed the research needed to create early detection tests for pancreatic cancer. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN), there has been “little change in the survival rates in the last 30 years and yet the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is currently spending just 2% of its budget on pancreatic cancer research.”

Why I Went to Washington

When my friend Carolyn, a fellow survivor, asked me to attend the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., I decided to go. I wanted to use my personal experience as a cancer patient to be involved and to change the statistics. Maybe I did have something to say!

Once I arrived in Washington, I knew that I was not alone. There were over 460 volunteers who came to storm Capitol Hill on March 31. Many had lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer. All of us had a story to tell. I finally realized why I was there—I needed to speak for all of those who couldn’t—those who did not survive this deadly illness.

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