Advocacy: What does it mean in the context of breast cancer?


by Leonie Young, originally published in Bloom, Reach to Recovery International’s magazine, reproduced with permission

When most people hear the word ‘Advocacy’ their first reaction is “That’s not for me, I don’t want to be political.”  In reality, most people practice advocacy but they just don’t realize they do.

Sometimes advocacy is political, sometimes it’s compromising, debating, persuading; sometimes it’s none of that, but merely enthusiastic passion.  It is about striving for what we believe in.

Advocacy is a tool we use to bring about change.  It can change unfair treatment;
improve services and access to services or remove barriers.

Advocates come in many forms.  Lawyers are best known as advocates in our community but in the breast cancer world, we are advocates too. One of the most powerful advocacy tools we all have is our own story.  We can use it in so many ways to illustrate important issues.  After all our own story is what brings us together as women who have been affected by breast cancer.

A very simple example of advocacy and making a difference in a small way and  something that drives me,  is the use of words to describe the cancer experience and people who are affected by cancer.

We hear many terms used to describe people whose lives have been affected by cancer, such as “victim” or “sufferer” as well as phrases to describe how someone is coping with their diagnoses like “win or lose their battle” with cancer.   In the scheme of things it may seem insignificant to be concerned about the use of words, however, in reality the terms used to describe people whose lives have been affected by cancer can have an enormous impact on community perceptions. These perceptions or misconceptions can influence how government, policy makers and funding bodies fund research and support programs in the community.  It most certainly affects how people perceive themselves and can have a huge impact on how they get through everything they have to with their cancer diagnosis.

If we can find ways to bring hope and optimism to peoples’ lives, even when this may seem impossible then we can begin to have an influence on the personal impact of cancer.

If you don’t think you are an advocate, just think of times you have talked to another woman about her breast cancer journey, or the times when you helped someone find information, or have spoken up for someone who is not confident.

Of course, there are people who use their advocacy skills to raise awareness in the political arena, who sit on committees and influence decisions made in relation to cancer and raise  awareness in a more public way.  When we all work together, great things can happen.

In the words of Margaret Meed:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;   indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


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