Cancer advocacy describes actions by a group or an individual that enhances the worldwide effort to manage and eventually defeat cancer. When an individual dies of cancer, you often hear a loved one’s call for donations to the local cancer society, with contributions to be made in the deceased’s name. This survivor’s plea for donations is a laudable act of cancer advocacy that is repeated countless times in towns all across America and around the world—the cumulative effect of these calls for donations results in millions of dollars being directed towards cancer treatment and education, as well as research initiatives that seek a cure for the disease.
Have you ever volunteered to aid a cancer stricken loved one, relative, friend, or a total stranger who was in need? If you have, then you are a cancer advocate. If you’ve ever volunteered to distribute pamphlets or hand out flyers in an effort to help fight the war against cancer, then you, too, are an advocate. Answering a phone during a cancer telethon funding drive, informing a friend or neighbor about a new advance in the fight against cancer, writing a research or treatment support letter to a health organization or a political leader, speaking out at a rally—all of that and much more constitute cancer advocacy.
Cancer is a Complex Disease
When it comes to cancer, there are no simple answers. The brightest and best minds of times past and present have struggled for over a century to find the silver bullet that will, once and for all, put an end to the countless cancer deaths that occur around the globe every day. Every optimistic voice and every promotional effort brings us one step closer to vanquishing this extraordinarily complex and cure-resistant disease.
Cancer’s complexities aren’t limited to the laboratory or hospital room because, as we all know, the disease complicates lives and injures families in myriad ways large and small. Oftentimes, professional counsel can help, and when a cancer oriented therapist volunteers their time, expertise, and consolation at a cancer patient’s bedside or on talk radio, they are a cancer advocate. A 10 year old student who solicits his or her classmates for nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills for a cancer research funding drive is a cancer advocate. In short, cancer advocacy is all around us. In ways great and small, all of us can help, and for those who wish to contribute to the cause in well informed and broadly effective ways, formal training programs are available to help promote public awareness of and funding for cancer related issues such as those listed below:
• Work directly to solicit funds for cancer research
• Educate others as to the latest in cancer research discoveries
• Support and help facilitate patient participation in cancer research programs
• Become actively involved in improving cancer patient care, both within and outside the medical setting
• Consolidate and coordinate community support resources for those who have been directly or indirectly affected by cancer
• Make your cancer advocacy voice heard in the halls of local, state, and federal government buildings
• Utilize all forms of local and mass media to make your cancer advocacy voice heard
• Coordinate and/or solicit volunteer aid for local cancer society branches or other similar organizations
• Help to educate specific, high risk cancer populations about the disease
• Work to promote early screenings and better detection of cancer
Participate in the Peer Review Process
Before funding is granted to a particular cancer treatment, research or education program, government or other funding officials will typically require an extensive review of the proposed initiative. This review process will generally include the participation of numerous individuals, including scientists, health care professionals, administrators, etc., each of whom will present their findings to the funding authority. This process is known as peer review, and it will oftentimes include the participation of lay persons who have a personal history of cancer; ordinary citizen consumers may be asked to rate various cancer services, programs, specific institutions, etc. Peer review panels that include cancer sufferers and/or survivors provide an excellent opportunity for cancer advocacy through the contributions of those of who have experienced the disease first hand. Listed below are just a few of the organizations that welcome the presence of cancer service consumers on their peer review board:
• The American Cancer Society
• The Research Advocacy Network
• Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
• The Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program and many more
Help Others by Telling Your Story
One of the more common and useful forms of cancer advocacy is for a survivor of the disease to share their story of hope with others. There are numerous, disease specific (breast, colon, lung, etc.) support groups in communities all across the United States, and anyone who has either survived cancer or who has learned to cope well with ongoing disease can make a valuable contribution to these types of cancer advocacy forums. No one knows the life-altering circumstances of cancer better than someone who has personally lived with the disease, and sharing those experiences with others can be beneficial to all parties involved. One of the greatest challenges faced by health care professionals who work with cancer patients is to maintain the patient’s sense of optimism and hope. Cancer patients who meet face-to-face with others who share their circumstances oftentimes find that these meetings leave them with a greater feeling of peace and an increased determination to fight the disease.
Clearly, cancer advocacy can be accomplished in countless and nearly limitless ways. Whether you’re a physician, a therapist, a carpenter, single mother or a 10 year old volunteer on a fund raising drive, anyone may lend a hand in the ongoing effort to vanquish a disease for which, one day, a cure will undoubtedly be found. In the meantime, cancer advocacy in all its many forms helps to bring us that much closer to the day when cancer deaths become a thing of the past.