Out in the Lobby

Millions in the cancer community are working to increase research funding or change policy.
BY ANDREW SMITH
PUBLISHED: JUNE 18, 2015
George Ann Blough did not become an advocate for cancer policy the first time her ovarian cancer went into remission. It was only when the cancer returned that she vowed to donate some portion of the time she had left to the war against cancer.

She proved so effective at raising funds through the American Cancer Society’s (ACS’s) Relay for Life events that leadership reached out and asked her to get involved with its advocacy efforts. It took three tries, but the group finally recruited her as part of its Cancer Action Network (CAN), and she has risen since then to become its top volunteer in West Virginia.


PHOTO BY BRANDON BOGER


After a recurrence of ovarian cancer, George Ann Blough became an advocate for changes to government health policy.




“I hesitated at first because I didn’t think there was any way that a person like me would be able to influence government policy,” Blough says.

“I was an average person, not a power broker, but I realized that my experience gave me the power to influence during one of the first big events I attended. I was speaking on a panel with a university president and the head of the National Institutes of Health, and after we had all finished speaking the reporters pushed past them to interview me.”

Blough felt further empowered by the training she received from ACS CAN, training that teaches volunteers the art of advocacy, one step at a time. She has since used those skills on U.S. senators, county health boards and nearly every type of government official in between. Her efforts helped convince her local board of health to ban workplace smoking, and they helped persuade the West Virginia state legislature to ban the use of tanning beds by children under 14.



Advocacy At All Levels



Countless decisions at every level of government — decisions about where people can smoke, what health insurers must cover, which medications are approved and how much money will go to fund research — ultimately affect cancer incidence, cancer mortality and the quality of life before, during and after cancer for the millions of individuals affected by the disease.

Influencing those decisions, therefore, ranks among the principal objectives of all advocates in the cancer arena, from major organizations like the ACS to individual lobbyists like Blough.

Measured by financial outlays, advocacy on behalf of the cancer community constitutes a relatively small lobby. The largest of these advocacy groups spent only about $4 million on such activities in 2013. Measured by manpower, however, cancer-community advocates rank among the most powerful of all lobbies. ACS CAN has just a few hundred paid employees but more than a million volunteers, including Blough. Organizations devoted to combatting particular types of cancer have millions more at the ready to make phone calls, send emails, write letters, raise funds, recruit additional volunteers, inform the public and lobby legislators from the local level up.

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