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Volunteer Advocate

12/19/08 5:55PM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST)  As part of a station-wide effort to consider some of the ways in which we help each other through hard times, commentator Leora Dowling describes how becoming a volunteer cancer advocate helped in her own recovery.

(DOWLING) I wonder if it's human nature to want to turn negative experiences into positive ones, to reach up and out after life has slapped you down.  I suspect so; I do it, and I've met a lot of others who do it too.

In December of 2006 I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for stage 2 breast cancer and I felt pretty awful.  By March, I'd moved on to radiation and I was starting to feel a bit better.  My hair was growing in, and my brain was becoming less addled.  It was then that I finally started to look at the impact cancer had had on me and my family over the years.

Both sides had been ravaged.  My grandmother, mother, three aunts and one uncle had all died of it.  And now I had the disease.  I realized (to my shame) that I had never done anything to help in the fight against cancer, not even write a check.

So I called the American Cancer Society and asked if they could find a way to use my talents to help others.  Within 24 hours they had.

A wonderful young woman, a cancer survivor like me, called and asked me to be a grassroots advocate. I said yes - without really knowing what that was.

Sure, I knew the ACS provided funding for research and prevention, and I knew they helped cancer patients directly, but I didn't understand how involved the ACS was - has to be - in what goes on behind the scenes politically.  I soon learned how the system works.  And that lobbyists shouldn't automatically be considered corrupt or dishonest.

Because of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network I'm a lobbyist now too - a volunteer, citizen lobbyist who tries to keep cancer and health care issues on the front burner in Washington D.C. and here in Vermont.

I've written letters to editors and emailed legislators.  I've testified in Montpelier about the financial hardships of being an underinsured cancer patient. I've been to Capitol Hill to tell my story, and speak out on other cancer-related issues - like support for the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, whose funding for research wasn't keeping pace with medical inflation even before the financial crisis hit.

I've also met many wonderful people who devote much more than just time, money and energy to the cause - they put their hearts and souls into it because their lives have, like most of ours, been touched by cancer too.

Reaching out on that cold, gray day two winters ago was one of the best things I've ever done. Volunteering has inspired me, given me peace of mind, and blessed me with new friends. Who knew that by giving, I'd get so much back in return?

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