Health on the Hill: Komen Advocacy Summit Recap by Jesse Kornblum

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Provide us an overview of your experience during the Komen Advocacy Summit.

The 2018 Komen Advocacy Summit is best described as the most beneficial roller coaster ride of my life. I had no idea what to expect. I started the first day nervous about the responsibility that I was given. I am extremely driven to make a positive change to help prevent and cure breast cancer, but the pressure I put on myself to make this trip as impactful as possible made me nervous. I worried I was not the right person for the job.

When the conference started, I found myself seated at a table labeled “Colorado” and was so excited to meet others from home that are advocating for the same things. Everyone started to show up, and I quickly learned that the Colorado crew was fantastic, and we became fast friends. These people were fighters, not just in their personal battles with breast cancer, but in our local communities. All of them were experienced advocates for breast cancer research funding and legislation. I knew that I needed to follow their lead and learn as much as possible. All my nervous feelings changed to excitement. I learned a lot and was given all the tools necessary to hit Capitol Hill and have a meaningful conversation with our elected officials. I fell asleep that night still feeling the overwhelming power of the group as well as shared our excitement for our day on the Hill.

On day two, I woke up once again feeling nervous. I was thinking about the opportunity in front of me and the impact I could have. I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially the cause itself. We had an additional pre-meeting and again, my nervous energy changed to excitement. We loaded onto the buses with the tools and knowledge needed to make a change.

As we approached our first meeting, all my emotions were fighting each other, but excitement prevailed. Once we sat down, I watched the group of experienced advocates go to work. Hearing their stories and seeing how they made the presentation to our representative gave me the confidence that I could do this and there was nothing to fear. From that meeting on, I had fun presenting our data and asks to the representatives. I could answer their questions, and felt confident presenting a case for budget increases and bill sponsorship. As the day went on, we were having such great engagement in our meetings that we were running behind, so we had to divide and conquer. The group was confident that I could conduct a meeting independently. I initially disagreed, but felt relieved and empowered after my solo mission turned out to be very constructive. The representative was very responsive to my presentation.

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That is the moment I told myself that I would not only fight breast cancer through fundraising and participating in events, but would take a much larger role in advocacy. My toolbox now has another amazing power tool that can be used to fight breast cancer.

The third day was an exciting ending to this wild roller coaster ride. We heard from some amazing people who are fighting breast cancer personally as well as people who have devoted their careers and their lives to the fight against breast cancer.

What these people shared with us made me feel empowered and optimistic for the changes we fought for on Capitol Hill. But while these small wins should be celebrated, it is still not enough. Now that I am home, I have not stopped thinking about ways I can be an advocate and how I will continue to help in the fight against breast cancer.

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What was the most impactful part of the Summit?

There were two parts that were extremely impactful:

  1. The team of people I was with from Colorado had confidence in me to conduct a meeting independently with a Colorado representative. This was when I realized I could continue fighting breast cancer with advocacy by taking it head on.
  2. Seeing all the people coming together, despite travel headaches, to take on Capitol Hill to divide and conquer this fight against breast cancer.

Explain your day on Capitol Hill.

My day on Capitol Hill was amazing. I was overwhelmed by the history of the places I was walking, and the power that exists within the walls of Capitol Hill. The day was filled with meetings where we discussed specific topics with either the Member themselves or with a staff member. We had a meeting with every Colorado representative’s office, making it a busy day of running around the Capitol. After every meeting, I walked out feeling that the topics we were discussing and the things we were asking for had be received well and had value to the representatives and their staff.

What surprised you about the Summit?

How much impact can be made in such a short period of time. Also, I was surprised to how easy it was to talk to the representatives and their staff as I was worried they would be intimidating to talk to prior to the Summit.

What can we do so everyone has a voice in government?

Educate everyone on the ease of contacting their representatives and the respect you will be given, even if just sending an email. If everyone knew how that their voice will be heard and knew how to reach out, I feel they would take the time to do it.

How can others get involved in advocacy?

Writing emails and making calls, as they are received by the representative’s office. There is also a lot of advocacy that is needed locally in every state, so if you want to become an advocate for the cause, I recommend becoming an advocate on Susan G. Komen’s website and keeping an eye out for opportunities to make your voice heard.

What does advocacy mean to you?

Advocacy means change. The education that you can provide to your representatives while being an advocate is the fuel for greater change.