Guest Post: An ACS CAN Volunteer’s Account of OVAC Lobby Day

Dr. Laura Witherspoon is an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer from Tennessee. Below is her account of her participation in the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day on July 9. One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) is a coalition of 39 national and community-based organizations, collectively representing millions of Americans facing cancer. Dr. Witherspoon joined about 140 other participants in the OVAC lobby day to urge lawmakers to end sequestration cuts to cancer research and prevention funding and increase funding for the fight against cancer.

Dr. Witherspoon with her ACS CAN Staff Partner

Dr. Witherspoon with her ACS CAN staff partner.

This was my first experience as a participant in OVAC. I knew a little about the event but had no idea how many cancer organizations are involved. I have been a volunteer for the American Cancer Society for many years and am honored to be currently serving as a board member for the Mid-South Division. I am also a member of ACS CAN and was invited to participate in OVAC this year as the sole representative from Tennessee, as it turns out. It was fun to catch up with staff members from ACS CAN, but I did not know any of the other participants when I arrived. That situation quickly changed, however, during a very informative orientation to OVAC. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to people from many different organizations and many parts of the country. It does not take long to realize how passionate people are about eliminating cancer in our world, no matter which organization they may represent. We are all very much more alike than different.

I realize that OVAC was started to create a united front in our interaction with our Congressional members, but I suspect this interaction between groups has had an even more beneficial effect on the participants. I know quite a bit about ACS CAN and the Society, but I was able to learn about LIVESTRONG, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and others. The most impressive thing about all of these groups are the stories the individuals have to tell – you know the stories I’m talking about: stories of personal triumph and loss, stories that portray unbelievable courage in the face of adversity. I was privileged to hear many such stories during my short time with OVAC. I made some new friends, and that alone made the trip worthwhile.

Our day on the Hill was an interesting and hopefully productive experience. Since I was the lone representative for the great state of Tennessee, I was accompanied by a consultant who manages the OVAC coalition. His first-hand knowledge of Capitol Hill was entertaining and invaluable. We met with Barbara Damron, Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow in Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office. Barbara is a nurse and oncology researcher at the University of New Mexico. She has also been an OVAC participant! It was good to know that we have someone really working behind the scenes on our behalf, and I will maintain contact with her during this year of her fellowship. We also met with James Tatgenhorst, legislative assistant to Sen. Bob Corker.

After having lunch near the Capitol, we met with Sarah Osborn, senior legislative assistant to Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, for an extended period of time. She has a long history of experience on the Hill although she more recently started working with Rep. Fleischmann. Sarah is quite knowledgeable on healthcare and cancer research issues. We also met briefly with Rep. Fleischmann, who has a very personal connection to cancer in both parents. He lost his father a few weeks ago to esophageal cancer. He and Sarah were quite enthusiastic about the one minute speech from OVAC which was specific to the state of Tennessee. He is a supporter of a rational approach to the budget and to funding of research; he voted against sequestration. I will keep in touch with Sarah and hope to get the Representative involved in some local cancer events during Congressional recesses.

I had a fantastic experience at OVAC as a first time participant and hope to be invited back next year.

All of the participants in OVAC's lobby day.

All of the participants in OVAC’s lobby day.

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