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 April, 2019, and her advice for overcoming fears and jumping into advocacy. 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!
Kelly Hendershot, Quad Cities, Iowa
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m the Program Director at Gilda’s Club Quad Cities located in Davenport, IA. I have been involved with the organization in some way since 2007. It is my second home and my family.
When I manage to get away from work, I’m very involved in volunteering in my community. One of my favorite volunteer opportunities right now is through an organization called Lead(h)er. This is a women’s empowerment organization in which women mentor other women. I have been both a mentor and a mentee and have made some wonderful connections through the group.
Though not formally diagnosed, I suffer from imposter syndrome. Yes, it gets a lot of hype amongst leadership circles, but when it was first described to me I knew I had it. I always think someone else can do it better, which is why it took me so long to become involved in advocacy at my affiliate – other than the standard letter writing and occasional phone calls. Once my Program Director relocated to another state and I was put in the role, I realized someone at our affiliate needed to step up and fill the gap. So I reached out to Shelby Berger, Manager, Policy & Advocacy at CSC to be open about my fears and receive guidance as to steps to take – and here we are today. I find the best way to break through imposter syndrome is to get involved.
How did you get connected with the Cancer Support Community?
I was first introduced to what lays behind the big red doors of Gilda’s Club Quad Cities in December 2007 at the urging of my husband’s oncologist. Not being from the area, I had no idea what the organization was. I never would have imagined what a life line it would become for the two of use through his prognosis and for myself after his death. I have been active with Gilda’s Club as a family member, bereaved widow, intern and the first president of our Associate Board. In May 2013, I earned my Masters in Social Work with the specific goal to one day work at Gilda’s Club and return to others the support and community I found during such a critical time. In July 2013, I joined the team as a part-time employee. In July 2015, I made the leap and left my role as VP of Project Management at Vibrant Credit Union to join the staff on a full-time basis. In April 2018, I followed in my mentor and good friend Melissa Wright’s footsteps by stepping into the Program Director position here.
Did you have experience with advocacy in any capacity before joining CSC? (e.g. legislator meetings, hosting educational events, writing letters or calling, writing pieces for media outlets, posting on your personal Facebook, sharing information with your community, etc.)
I was very much an advocacy novice prior to joining the CSC family. I did take a policy class during grad school. In all honesty, I hated it. At that point everything was just theoretical. I didn’t necessarily have a platform or agenda I felt that strongly about. It’s horribly to say, but sadly too true of a statement for so many (at that time) young adults in their 20s. Once I started working at Gilda’s Club Quad Cities, policy and advocacy became much more real to me. Day in and out I see the struggles of our members who need either a voice or help finding their own voice.
In what ways have you been involved with advocacy with CSC?
Gilda’s Club has been fortunate to host member forums with Congressman Dave Loebsack and Senator Joni Ernst during my time employed here. Both were very engaged in hearing about the hardships their constituents here in Iowa face due to a cancer diagnosis. I was even able to share my own personal story with both. Our Clubhouse also likes to host Advocacy 101 educational workshops for our members and participated in the world wide Biden Cancer Community Summit in 2018. Additionally, I have written letters and made phone calls on cancer related issues.
However, 2019 has really been my springboard year into advocacy. I’ve joined the Iowa Cancer Consortium’s Policy Committee, which has furthered my involvement with ACS CAN. I’ve also joined the Iowa Continuity of Care Coalition, most recently focusing on non-medial switching.
In March, I journeyed to our nation’s capital to meet with Iowa representatives to share our Clubhouse’s story and begin a narrative around the importance of distress screening for those participating in clinical trials. My imposter syndrome was in overdrive as I met my colleagues at our Cancer Policy Institute prior to our scheduled “March Madness” Hill Day visits. It was a wonderful eye-opening experience that I look very much forward to repeating.
Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?
Though I’m close to aging out of being able to call myself a young adult (some age breakdowns are more lenient than others), the needs of AYAs facing a cancer diagnosis are still very near and dear to my heart. Having my husband diagnosed with terminal brain cancer just three months after our wedding at the age of 28, I am particularly passionate about issues regarding fertility preservation and financial toxicity.
What is one tip or piece of advice you’d like to share with others who are interested in becoming an advocate?
Don’t let the thought that “someone else can do it better” stand in the way of becoming an advocate like I almost did. Advocacy is a wonderful way to grow and challenge yourself, while advancing the needs of others by giving those needs a voice. Find an advocacy mentor and ask questions about the roles of an advocate. Chances are if you feel passionately about an issue you are already and advocate in an informal way.
Tell us something fun about yourself—any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?
Self-care is something we always circle back to during my Family Group. My own self-care includes walking my dog Gabby, yoga, meditation, kickboxing and listening to podcasts. Travel is a passion of mine, whether in the US or abroad. A personal goal is to tack on some vacation days to any work travel I do in the future to explore more.