Advocate Spotlight: Siobhan McLaughlin Lesley

February 13, 2020
Siobhan with Kansas Senator Pat Pettey
Siobhan with Kansas Senator Pat Pettey

Each month, the Cancer Policy Institute profiles advocates who have been engaged in cancer advocacy. Read on to learn more about Siobhan, and her path to become the Executive Director of Gilda's Club Kansas City.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got connected with the Cancer Support Community.

After a long career in marketing communications and my daughters moving on to college and law school, I thought it was a perfect time to give back to my community. I remember my United Way client referring to his shift from “working for money to working for meaning.” How cool is that? It stuck with me and it is was something to which I aspired.

So, I started networking in the Kansas City non-profit industry and explored several different options. During that process, three different people contacted me about Gilda’s Club Kansas City. I went on the website but didn’t really feel a connection. Then, I was sitting in a school board meeting and the chairman read a note from a teacher whose husband was diagnosed with and died from pancreatic cancer. The last line in her note said, “… had it not been for Gilda’s Club Kansas City my children would be at a complete loss.” At that moment, I knew that all of these people pointing me toward Gilda’s Club were not a mere coincidence but a true calling.

I went home and Googled the incidence of cancer and was shocked. I had no idea that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. I realized that I found something that impacts just about everyone in my community.

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.)

My advocacy experience prior to CSC was in the area of the arts. I served on boards that received local and state funding and would be recruited to speak to the impact the arts had on my children.

Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?

Right now I am particularly passionate about Medicaid Expansion. Gilda’s Club Kansas City serves members from both Kansas and Missouri. Regrettably, both states are in the minority of those not having adopted Medicaid Expansion.

The good news in Kansas is that the Governor and Majority Leader introduced a bipartisan proposal, SB 252, to expand Medicaid. There is great support in the Senate and hearings are underway.

In Missouri, there is a statewide coalition called Healthcare for Missouri which has initiated a signature collection drive to put Medicaid Expansion on the ballot in November.

What is one tip or piece of advice you’d like to share with others who are interested in becoming an advocate?

It is so easy! I was a bit intimidated not only because I do not feel like I am an expert on Medicaid or KanCare but also because I, personally, do not like in Kansas. I live in Missouri. However, half of our members live in Kansas. I participated in Kansas Cancer Awareness Day to be sure they were represented.

The first representative I met with seemed very rushed and disinterested. I told him I would take less than 5 minutes of his time.  After I delivered by talking points – from my heart and in my own words -- and mentioned our programming in his district, he really opened up. He asked all about Gilda’s Club Kansas City, our history, our partnerships, and our outcomes. I left his office 30 minutes later with a commitment to support the bill!

Tell us something fun about yourself—any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?

Many people are a bit intimidated by my name, Siobhan. It’s Gaelic and pronounced Sh-vaughn. I answer to most any pronunciation, though!

I have two great daughters. Cianan is graduating this year from the University of Michigan Law School. Olivia is attending the University of Glasgow, Scotland. They keep me hip and humble.

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!