Advocate Spotlight: Rachel Gerstenfeld

June 12, 2020

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

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Maryland, but I am originally from northern New Jersey. I am getting a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in Health Policy, which led me to the Cancer Support Community for a summer internship. Because of COVID-19, my internship with the Cancer Support Community is remote, but I am really grateful for the experience so far. I have previous internship and volunteer experience with patient-centered organizations, so I was eager to join the Cancer Policy Institute at CSC. CSC stood out to me because of how meaningful their work is. As I think about my future career, I know I want to work in an environment that positively impacts and empowers patients. Since I am studying public health and policy, I am interested in learning more about health policy and how it shapes patient outcomes.

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.)

Yes, the main reason I became interested in patient advocacy is through my volunteer role with another non-profit, called the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. As part of this organization’s national council of college leaders from across the country, I had the opportunity to participate in their annual Day on the Hill. I advocated on Capitol Hill the past few years in support of legislation that has the potential to positively impact Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients. Using my patient voice to speak to congressional offices was incredibly empowering. It motivates me to help other patients find their voice. I have also engaged in advocacy initiatives through social media for this organization. 

Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?

I am passionate about looking at the patient’s needs as a whole, which needs to include socioemotional well-being. Before, during, and after cancer treatment, patients’ mental health needs to be prioritized along with the physical in order to optimize quality of life. Patient-centered care should take into consideration how cancer survivors can live their lives happily and productively after life-changing health events.

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

I would tell others to not be afraid of sharing your own story or experiences as a patient. Community is very powerful. Sharing my own story with Crohn’s disease through my previous advocacy work has been incredibly rewarding. Although it was difficult at first, once I took the plunge, I realized how much I could help others in similar positions. It becomes much easier to advocate for yourself and then for others when you are candid.

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

I am a big University of Maryland basketball fan. I was disappointed when March Madness had to be cancelled this year, but I am already looking forward to when basketball can resume again. Go Terps!