Each month, the Cancer Policy Institute profiles advocates who have been engaged in advocacy in their home state, their community, with elected officials, and more. Read on to learn more about our featured advocate for March, 2019, and her inspiring story and engagement with advocacy at CSC and beyond. If you are interested in learning more about policy, advocacy, and ways to get involved, sign up to be a part of the Grassroots Network!
Heather Hall, Detroit, Michigan
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a 3-time cancer survivor, diagnosed with osteosarcoma at 21, melanoma at 28 and breast cancer at 43. Being diagnosed with cancer at 21, three months shy of graduating from college, was life-changing. My adulthood has been spent as a cancer survivor (I’m very grateful to be alive to state that). And while cancer definitely doesn’t define me, it played an integral part of leading me on my life’s path. When I finished bone cancer treatment, I promised myself that I would help others fight this disease and work to create a positive impact on my life and others. Cancer reminds me to be kind to others, be brave, seek adventures, live without regrets, open my arms and heart to possibilities. And to laugh, a lot.
How did you get connected with CSC?
Diagnosed with bone cancer at 21, I underwent a 13-month chemo and surgery treatment. Upon finishing that treatment, the local Gilda’s Club had recently opened so I visited and started attending a support group. After a few months of that, I moved into a volunteer role then accepted my first post-college job at the clubhouse! I really was inspired by the positive impact of the emotional and social support program available to cancer survivors, caregivers, family and friends. Cancer can be so isolating and devastating. Having support, whether through groups or social activities, is a true game-changer for many.
When I moved on for another career opportunity, I stayed involved as a volunteer, eventually helping create a Young Adult Council that raised awareness of the CSC program with other young adults to help recruit new members and raise funds. During all of this, my dad was going through treatment for multiple myeloma. Originally diagnosed a year after my bone cancer diagnosis, he was in and out of treatment for six years. When he died in 2004, my mom attended the widows’ support group and my family found support in attending the social activities together. I went back to Gilda’s Club as a staff member and even though I’ve since moved on professionally, I continue to be a supporter of the CSC program.
Being involved with CSC from so many different angles (member, volunteer, staff) gives me a great perspective of this program. I see the value and benefit to people facing cancer. I strongly believe in the CSC program and the critical need and value of the CSC program. I personally know that emotional and social support contributes to positive outcomes for people affected by cancer.
Did you have any experience with advocacy in any capacity before joining CSC?
I’ve always enjoyed politics and policy. I toyed with entering politics when I was younger but when bone cancer showed up at 21, I decided to focus on advocating for improved cancer outcomes. I’ve been involved with cancer advocacy since I finished bone cancer treatment, volunteering for several organizations. I currently also serve as a LIVESTRONG Leader and the lead volunteer with ACS Cancer Action Network in my Congressional District. I’ve done everything from writing letters, making calls, collecting petitions, media interviews, speaking engagements, legislator meetings, community presentations, attending town hall meetings and more! I also attend local, state and federal legislator meetings throughout Michigan and in D.C. and have presented on community involvement and the impact of sharing your cancer story at trainings and conferences. I enjoy meeting with others in my community, as well as mentoring other cancer survivors. I feel so energized, motivated and inspired working with others to fight cancer!
In what ways have been involved with advocacy with CSC?
I was working for a CSC affiliate when CSC decided to launch the policy side of the organization. I was thrilled! It’s so important to showcase the impact of cancer on the emotional aspect of people’s lives and CSC is well-positioned to be a leader in this. I attended the first CSC advocacy day in Washington, D.C. and have been a grassroots advocate since then. I’m proud of how far the advocacy program has come since its launch.
Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?
Helping others truly inspires me. I’m driven by the desire to ensure that everyone has access to quality patient-centered care. Access to affordable care is critical to overall quality of care and survivorship. I look at access to care in a comprehensive view – medical care, mental health support, no pre-existing condition barriers, new treatment options and more. It shouldn’t matter where you live, your age, race, demographics, whatever – everyone deserves the chance to fight and survive cancer.
What is one tip or piece of advice you’d like to share with others who are interested in becoming an advocate?
Your story matters and has power to make positive impact in so many ways. Don’t ever think that what you’re doing isn’t making a difference. Every conversation, email, social media post, phone call and more add up to create change. I believe that it takes one person to create positive change. But you must do something to start creating. Be the change.
Tell us something fun about yourself.
I love to write and help others and bring those together in a blog (heathershangout.com) that focuses on celebrating life after cancer. I’m naturally curious (journalism degree!) and am always interested in meeting new people and learning new things about the world around me. I also love to be active in the outdoors so I’m often hiking, camping, biking, and seeking whatever adventures I can find! I developed an addiction to cycling when I bought my road bike two years ago. I twice biked across Iowa to raise money for cancer programs and my friends know when I talk about Ruby, it’s my road bike. I am an eternal optimist and look for the positive in situations. I always ask what else is possible? It just seems to make life more enjoyable and interesting!