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About a year after I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, I had an overwhelming feeling that my life had a new purpose. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and God has a plan much bigger than mine. I kept asking myself: what I supposed to learn from this disease? What I am supposed to be doing with my life? How can I help others?

I initially began volunteering with the American Lung Association. I gathered a team and raised money for their walk and stair climb, got trained to help out with some of their programs, and became a spokesperson for their events. I helped to educate our community about their free programs and they gave me the platform to raise awareness for lung cancer. It’s been a perfect partnership but I felt like I needed to do more. We need more funding for research. For being the #1 cancer killer in the US, lung cancer receives just a fraction of the funding it so viciously demands.

What is an advocate? Well, Merriam-Webster says it is a person who speaks or writes in support of a person or cause. Another definition that I like better is a person who pleads for, or in behalf of another. Pleading… that’s nearly what I do when I share my story, and thousands of others’, to the leaders of our great country.

This past week, I was asked by the national office of the American Lung Association to join them in 8 separate meetings with key members of the Senate and House on the Appropriations Committee. The topic: more funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for medical research. Not lung cancer specifically, but all medical research. This is something that affects EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN. I was escorted by the national CEO of ALA, Harold Wimmer, the national Chair Kate Forbes, the national advocate Erika Sward (love her!) and their legislative counsel, Dale. I had quite the entourage.

on capitol hill  senator cochran

Although it was a long day, beginning at 8am and finishing at 10pm, I was honored to participate and hopefully pull on some heart-strings to make a difference. Oh yeah! This was after a 12 hour travel day due to a 5 hour flight delay in Chicago. Oh Chicago, why can’t your planes ever leave on time?

After an exciting day of walking (lots of walking) and talking on the Hill, I attended an award dinner reception for PhRMA (they represent the country’s leading biopharmaceutical researchers and biotechnology companies). It was wonderful to see the brilliant researchers that are working on cures and drugs for cancer. They keynote speaker was Tom Brokaw. He was captivating and inspiring while telling his experience of being diagnosed with cancer.

AND a bonus! I ran into fellow survivor/advocate extraordinaire Matt and his stunning wife Melissa and Lungevity Superstar Andrea! They put all us “lung people” at the same table so we enjoyed great conversation along with amazing food.

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So….why do I advocate? Because I can. I may be a stage 4 lung cancer survivor, but for the most part I’m healthy (how weird does that sound?) and there are too many that are not. Too many want to make a difference but simply run out of time. In fact 160,000 of them this year alone. That terrifying number includes my grandma, Jenn, Kierstin, Paul, Burton, , and as recently as yesterday, my friend Robin. I know there are many more I’m forgetting just in my small circle (chemo brain = lousy memory). I fight for them. I walk miles, I talk to anyone who will listen, I read and research daily, for those that no longer can and so less families have to experience the devastation of lung cancer.

I believe in a mighty God and I believe this is my life’s purpose. I was a bartender for 17 years, that went to college at 38 to go into the medical field to help others. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be speaking to hundreds of people at a time and going before Congress to ask them for money, I would’ve said you are crazy. I hated public speaking….but I hate cancer even more.

I will be heading back to Washington D.C. next week for the Rally for Medical Research. This will be my 2nd year in a row and I pray they listen to the 263 advocates that will be pleading for more funding.

Please remember growing old is a privilege that not everyone gets to enjoy.

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