May Advocate Spotlight: Lisa Simms Booth
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got connected with the Cancer Support Community.
I have always had a heart for service and aspired to do work that improves the lives of others and/or empowers them to advocate for positive change. I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1992 and started working in politics and then social justice advocacy via several organizations such as the Children’s Defense Fund and the Alliance for Justice. My work and personal life collided when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Shortly after her diagnosis, I took a job at FasterCures and my passion for patient and cancer advocacy began. My time at FasterCures was followed by the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI) and my current position at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.
It was during my time at the Biden Cancer Initiative, where I served as the Senior Director for Patient and Public Engagement, that I became involved with CSC. In addition to Kim Thiboldeaux serving on the BCI Board, I worked with members of the Cancer Support Community staff in a variety of ways: through the Biden Cancer Collaborative, our network of cancer and patient advocacy organizations, and on our efforts to illustrate the importance and impact of patient navigation on patient outcomes. I also had the privilege of traveling with CSC to the Navajo Nation for the opening of the cancer center in Tuba City, AZ.
How are you involved in cancer advocacy?
My work in advocacy has always centered around empowering cancer patients and their families to share their stories, to speak out about their needs and how the care system falls short, and to make clear that their needs must remain at the center of the work. As the Executive Director of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts—D.C.’s only independent nonprofit providing holistic, innovative care—I am using my voice to elevate the importance of and necessity for whole person care when dealing with cancer. It can be so easy to only focus on the physical challenges created by cancer, but it is imperative that we also focus on the social, emotional, cognitive, financial, and spiritual issues.
Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?
I am very passionate about ensuring that healthcare coverage includes support for cancer patients’ and survivors’ access to whole person/integrative services. As more and more people are seeking integrative approaches to support their cancer journey, it is critical that we reduce or eliminate the cost of, physical barriers to, and stigma associated with the pursuit of integrative care. We also must reduce the barriers to getting access to this kind of whole-person care. It is these barriers that make our work at Smith Center so important, and it’s why we offer our programming for free or at low cost.
What is one tip or piece of advice you’d like to share with others who are interested in becoming an advocate?
My main piece of advice is that your story and your voice matters. If that little voice is telling you that one person can’t make a difference, or that your story isn’t important, that is not true. There is nothing more powerful than hearing the experience of a cancer patient, a family member, or a caregiver. YOU are the most important voice in that meeting or call you have with an elected official, or in that letter you write with your story. YOUR voice matters!
Tell us something fun about yourself—any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?
Here’s a fun fact—my first job out of college was at WQED-TV, the public television station in Pittsburgh, my hometown! WQED was the studio where Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was filmed. Yes, that Mister Rogers. As part of my job, I gave tours of the Land of Make Believe to little kids. I also organized a weekend event that included tours and a show with Mr. McFeeley and other characters. I even dressed up as Purple Panda for that event and took pictures with the kids. It was one of the best parts of the job. P.S. Yes, he was the same person in real life that you saw on screen. A truly amazing person! P.S.S. Those character suits are really hot!
If you are interested in learning more about policy, advocacy, and ways to get involved, sign up to be a member of the Grassroots Network!