My Advocacy Summit experience was a whirlwind but it was completely worth it. After two cancelled and rebooked flights due to the upcoming storm, I finally got one at 6:00 AM from Detroit to D.C. I got there and went over the slides, facts and the current political climate while waiting to check in. The bright pink signs guided my way and I was greeted with warm smiles and a booklet to explain everything I would need to know. It was a big task we set out to accomplish. We were there to stand up and speak up for the cause and for so many with breast cancer.
We were grouped by states to allow us to meet others. And to my excitement, I was paired with people who had done this before and helped us newbies with what to expect and how to prepare. The meeting after registration got us up to speed on the relevant things happening on Capitol Hill regarding budget talks and the Oral Parity bill we would also be discussing.
We discussed our three “asks” or main topics to discuss when attending our meetings on the Hill and it also helped us prepare for potential curveballs, too. We wanted policymakers to understand the asks, connect, and remember us and the important reasons we came.
Our first ask was an increase in funding to the NBCCEDP (National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program). Our second ask was to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), which houses the National Cancer Institute, to increase funding for biomedical research. The third ask was to thank those who cosponsored HR1409, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, and to get the other House members to cosponsor if they hadn’t already. Of the 50 states, 43 have passed this on the state level. Michigan is not one of the 43, but it is one of the five that have it on the table this year. This made our visit very important. The Oral Parity bill instructs insurers to treat oral medications at the same level as IV medications to treat cancer. Pharmacy bills can be thousands of dollars without this coverage. I work with a therapist who has Metastatic Breast Cancer and takes an oral chemotherapy. She said it would be thousands every month and she would not be able be able to afford it if she hadn’t found financial assistance. Unfortunately, she knows many who are not as lucky in the state of Michigan.
After a great dinner, we heard from Komen’s new CEO, Paula Schneider, about her own diagnosis, her family history and how all that passion and personal connection brought her to us. She reminded us of the disparity where women of color have a 40% less chance of survival, which is completely unacceptable. I work and live in a county with a high percentage of women of color. This matters to me and it was good to hear this reminder before I left to go to bed. The next speaker was Komen founder and ambassador, Nancy Brinker. Hearing from her made the end of this day even better. She reminded us of the promise she made her sister and showed us all the countries that Komen helps. She reminded us of how much we need to make positive changes in the world. We may be meeting within our own states but our impact could have positive global implications. I would say this was my most impactful moment of the whole weekend. It reminded me of how much work we still had to do and it showed me just how many lives we can help change with everything we do.
The day on the Hill was long, but amazing! We grabbed our breakfast and did some more prep for the day and hopped on the buses to the Hill. For Michigan, we split into two groups depending on the areas we service and tackled our busy schedule.
Our first stop was Representative Levin, who supports the Oral Parity bill. Our next stop was Representative David Trott. We found out that we had his support on all our asks and thanked him for already being a cosponsor of the Oral Parity bill. Next, we met with the staff member for Representative Brenda Lawrence, Annika, and we thanked her for her support and for cosponsoring, as well as her support of the Detroit Race for the Cure® in recent years.
While waiting for our next meeting with the staff member for Representative Paul Mitchell, Rep. Mitchell himself coincidentally came out of a meeting nearby. We got to talk and hear his personal stories and connections to cancer. It was clear why we had his support for funding and why he cosponsored the Oral Parity bill. His nephew just passed at 35 of cancer that had metastasized. His wife benefited from advance screenings and her mother had breast cancer. He saw the reason for our asks and their importance in his own life.
We dropped off information for Representative Debbie Dingell (a longtime supporter of Komen and women’s health programs), and we took off for our two meetings with Senators. We joined the other half of the Michigan team for the meetings with Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow. We shared our asks and folders with information. We then asked that when the time comes that the Oral Parity bill comes to the Senate, to remember us, our stories, and the information we shared, and help it pass. It was an amazing end to the day with an opportunity that was unlike anything I could have ever imagined.
As a co-survivor, I often feel helpless. I can’t bring back the friend that died at 33. I cannot make sure my mom’s cancer doesn’t come back. I cannot take the Triple Negative Stage 3B cancer away from my 45-year-old stepmother, nor the cancer away from my friend who was just diagnosed at 34. The 3-Day walk, the Race for the Cure and this Advocacy Summit helped me feel like I was helping in my own ways.
We ended our three-day adventure recapping our day on the Hill, had discussions about the state of Medicaid and insurance issues and we got to hear from a few speakers, including former Colorado Legislator Dianne Primavera, who now leads Komen Colorado. She told us about the hard work she did for cancer bills, and helped us learn how to get our Representatives’ attention. She really wanted us to know that anyone can stand up for a cause. Doing our homework, having passion, and even a little food can help get you a chance to talk to our elected officials.
We ended the day hearing from a Metastatic Breast Cancer thriver, Vicki Summers*. She was diagnosed at 34, and at 38 she found out she had Metastatic Breast Cancer. The estimated survival rate is 24 to 36 months, but she has fought for 8 years. She sees the need for new treatments, immunotherapy advances, and more research. The things she did try have given her more time with her daughter, who was only three years old when she was diagnosed. She is now 12, and Vicki* wants to see her daughter grow up, she wants other women and men to see their families live and grow too. There was not a dry eye in the whole room. I don’t think it’s a real Komen event without a good cry. Her story reminded us of the personal side to the “asks” and put another face to my list of people I fight for. Her story reminded me of why we had all come together and how much further we need to go. I am so grateful for this opportunity to continue to fight for advances and improvements. To help not just those I know personally affected by breast cancer, but all women and men everywhere.
*Our friend Vicki Sumner, who inspired us all last month in D.C. with her metastatic breast cancer journey and urgent call for more research funding, passed away this week. She was a devoted wife and mother, and a passionate advocate. Her passing is a tragic reminder of the importance of our work together.
Our thoughts and prayers are with her family. Vicki, along with all those we have lost to this terrible disease, remain the inspiration for our work.