OVAC Advocates Share Their Experiences on The Hill


One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) is a collaboration of national not for profit organizations that represents millions of Americans affected by cancer. OVAC’s goals is to deliver a unified message to Congress and the White House on the need for increased cancer-related appropriations. The LIVESTRONG Foundation has been a part of OVAC for many years. This year forty-two LIVESTRONG supporters headed to Washington D.C. to voice the real-life challenges that families face when dealing with a cancer diagnosis and underscoring the impact Congress must make in fighting for increased funding for cancer research and programs to improve the lives our citizens.


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On top of “lending your voice” we also wanted wanted to share the experience of three of our advocates. We appreciate all of their time, effort and support in making the fight against cancer a national priority.

Marye Beth Herring:
I left Monday’s training sessions passionate about our One Voice Against Cancer purpose and feeling well prepared for the Tuesday meetings with both my Mississippi Senators and my Congressman. As so often happens, all three of my representatives were either in subcommittees or voting in their respective chambers at the times set for our meetings–our government in action! I did meet with their Health Legislation staff members, who are also from Mississippi. They are very knowledgeable on the key issues regarding healthcare and, therefore, very qualified to make recommendations to our representatives. I felt very comfortable entrusting my “asks” with them.

Marye Beth Herring's badge she wore to her meetings on The Hill

Marye Beth Herring’s badge she wore to her meetings on The Hill

In today’s climate on the Hill, funding requests are not easy topics. What seems so clear to us as cancer advocates must be weighed against all the other special requests for funding. We discussed the effects of sequestration on the programs we are most interested in: NIH, NCI, CDC, FDA, nursing education and many other programs. It has been more than a decade since the NIH received more than flat funding. All the staffers shared that their bosses agreed that priorities should be set, but where the money will come from and where it will go are not as clear.

I left my meetings with the sense that “they don’t get it.” How can a disease group that affects 13 million people and will continue to affect millions in the future, plus represent over $200 billion in lost productivity and treatment costs annually, not automatically be ranked a top priority? Don’t wait until the battle becomes “personal” for each of them to “get it.”  By that time, the funding cuts now for research and other programs could possibly derail the cure that they might need. Make cancer funding a top priority for 2014.

Elizabeth Hyatt:
The One Voice Against Cancer Coalition brought together a diverse group of Americans for one unified goal: Make the fight against cancer a top priority for Congress. With a history of bi-partisan support, I was hopeful our cause would be well received in all of the Florida House and Senatorial offices our team met with. In my home state of Florida, 118,339 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 42,370 Floridians will lose their battle with this disease. To put these statistics into perspective, Florida will lose more residents to cancer than the United States will lose troops in any war fought abroad. As our meetings progressed throughout the day, it made me question why the war against cancer wasn’t received with a higher sense of urgency. With millions of Americans touched by this disease, many congressional offices displayed a strong understanding and commitment to the National Institute of Health’s funding, but explained the real effects of Sequestration on the budget. I learned that Sequestration prevents a lawmaker’s ability to create priority within the budget, thus losing vital funding for cancer research and preventative care for millions of Americans.

LIVESTRONG Advocate Elizabeth Hyatt and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida

LIVESTRONG Advocate Elizabeth Hyatt and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida

I was sent to Washington because of LIVESTRONG‘s community partnership with Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a free camp for kids whose parents were diagnosed with cancer. Sharing similar stories to the kids sent to camp each year, I felt compelled to become a student leader in Camp Kesem and the One Voice Against Cancer to share my story. Lobbying for legislative action in One Voice Against Cancer helped me find my voice. I’m the voice of a generation where “cancer” is a household name. This is unacceptable. Every year the NIH loses critical funding, and as a result, the U.S. loses life-saving medical research that could potentially lead to the development of new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. I can’t help but worry that these budget short-cuts will have devastating consequences for Americans in the future. With budget discrepancies between both the House and the Senate, it is hard to predict today where the NIH funding level will settle but I am hopeful that meeting our representatives and sharing our stories started a conversation and opened new relationships of support with Congress. I believe starting a conversation is vital to OVAC’s goal in prioritizing cancer for lawmakers. In these two days, I met America’s leading cancer advocates and I am humbled by their daily commitment to the fight against cancer.

OVAC is just the beginning for me and I look forward to sharing my voice in the fight against cancer. Thank you LIVESTRONG and Camp Kesem for allowing me to represent your organizations. It truly was an experience of a lifetime!

Jack Gray:
I feel very honored to be able to represent LIVESTRONG at the One Voice Against Cancer Lobby Day. My group met with Congressman Bob Gibbs, Congressman David Joyce and Legislative Assistant Val Molaison in Senator Sherrod Brown’s office. After we introduced ourselves and shared our stories, we furnished each one with a leave behind folder of information describing the state of the war on cancer and how the Sequester is affecting research, clinical trials, screenings and so much more. We asked each of them to work toward ending the sequester and to restore and increase funding to NIH for the cancer fight. I was pleased in all three meetings to receive very positive feedback and a commitment to support our platform.

We also asked each one to make a one minute speech from the floor, voicing their concern and support for making cancer a top priority. Each of them agreed it was an excellent opportunity and would look into making the speech to the legislature. All in all, it was a very productive day with some excellent dialogue with each one. I will be very attentive to what happens on the floor in the next few weeks. That’s how we’ll be able to measure the effectiveness of the OVAC Lobby Day 2013. Being with so many passionate and hard working cancer warriors strengthens my resolve and commitment to making a difference in this war against cancer.

LIVESTRONG Advocate Jack Gray on The Hill

LIVESTRONG Advocate Jack Gray on The Hill


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