Annette Madlock Gatison -- Promoting Advocacy and Scientific Training

Annette Madlock Gatison

Annette Madlock Gatison

To continue my education as a breast cancer advocate and social activist I participated in two flagship programs offered by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, the Advocate Leadership Summit and the Project LEAD® (Leadership, Education and Advocacy Development) Institute earlier this year. Both programs are designed to increase the knowledge and skills of advocates who are working to eradicate the breast cancer epidemic. This training helped me to rethink my work and how I will involve others in this movement to end breast cancer for future generations.

The Advocate Leadership Summit and Lobby Day were held in Washington, D.C. in May. NBCC’s website described it as a “national gathering of breast cancer advocates from across the country and around the world.” Some of the country’s leading public policy experts provided training in effective advocacy strategies and grassroots organizing. In addition to the interactive lectures and presentations, I found it useful to talk through NBCC’s Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 Blueprint and plan of action (PDF) and engage in small table discussions with leading scientific researchers about prevention and public policy experts about the state of healthcare and women’s health. I left the trainings with an individual action plan to keep myself motivated and encourage others to get involved.

The major highlight of this training for me was Lobby Day, where I had the opportunity to speak with people from the House of Representatives and Senate along with seasoned advocate lobbyists. The purpose of our visit to Capitol Hill was to garner support for the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act and the Department of Defense (DOD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP), two of NBCC’s legislative and public policy major priorities for 2013.

  • Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act: In September 2010, NBCC set a deadline and launched a plan of action to reach its mission: Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®—knowing how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. The “Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act,” first introduced in the 112th Congress, defines an important role the federal government must play in this effort. The legislation complements and enhances the strategic work being done by NBCC to end breast cancer once and for all.
  • $150 Million for the Department of Defense (DOD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) for FY2014: As a result of NBCC’s grassroots advocacy, the DOD BCRP was created in 1992 to “eradicate breast cancer by funding innovative, high-impact research through a partnership of scientists and consumers.” NBCC seeks continued funding for this successful program.

I was in awe to learn how extensively advocates volunteered their time and personal resources to work on the behalf of others in this area. When I speak with individuals in my circle, they have no idea about this legislation or the work it takes to make it happen. My personal goal is to make individuals aware of this work and to increase activism around this area of public policy.

The next education program I participated in was The Project LEAD® Institute, a five-day intensive science course for breast cancer advocates held in sunny California in July. Don’t even think about fun in the sun! I call Project LEAD a boot camp! Visions of high school biology and chemistry classes danced through my head as the institute covered the basics of cancer biology, genetics, epidemiology, research design, and advocacy. It was rough but worth it. I expected to learn about the roles of DNA, RNA and proteins and the development of cancer at the molecular level, and I did. Because of my work as a social scientist I already knew the differences between descriptive studies, analytic studies, clinical trials and meta-analyses, and how each can be linked to causality, but for people without this background such training is vital. Even with my training in methodology, I increased my abilities to critically interpret scientific literature and my knowledge about the scientific aspects of breast cancer. It was everything I expected, and more!

There were two added bonuses for me. First, on a dinner break two of my colleagues and I went to the Scripps Research Institute and visited the lab of Brunhilde Felding-Habermann, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine and Antonio F. Santidrian, Ph.D., a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Physiology. They showed us how they are investigating at how to stop the energy production that feeds cancer cells at the mitochondrial level. It was heartening to see first hand the work scientists are doing in a research laboratory.

Second, as a Project LEAD graduate I was offered the opportunity to help plan and review research studies through the Cochrane Collaboration — an international network of more than 31,000 people from over 120 countries who work together to help healthcare practitioners, policy-makers, patients, their advocates and carers, make well-informed decisions about health care, by preparing, updating, and promoting the accessibility of Cochrane Reviews – over 5,000 so far, published online in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, part of The Cochrane Library. This is an opportunity I will not pass up!

I would recommend anyone who is interested in the science behind breast cancer to attend The Project LEAD Institute. It is well worth the time and investment.

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