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A Metastatic Cancer Fighter’s Passion for Advocacy

Written by: Jet Mitchell
Jet Mitchell earned her MBA from the University of Texas in Arlington, her JD degree from Boyd School of Law at UNLV, and is a licensed Nevada attorney.  She has been a proud Las Vegas local since 1995.

I would never have imagined that my educational background as a licensed attorney and my current professional role as a college professor would serve me well in the most unusual way – as a Stage IV metastatic breast cancer fighter and patient advocate.  An active advocacy role is one I now embrace, not only for me but for my fellow advanced cancer patients whose voices have not yet been heard.

Allow me to share my passion for advocacy and my belief that advocacy is a critical team sport.

When did my advocacy passion start?

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB breast cancer.  What followed? A double mastectomy, intensive chemotherapy, and extensive radiation treatments.  One of my proudest moments in my 2015 treatment schedule was finishing the Las Vegas Half Marathon on a Sunday – three days after one of my chemotherapy injections. I have run a half marathon in all 50 states and continue physical activity through cancer treatments.

When I received my Stage IV metastatic diagnosis in 2016, I began chemotherapy treatment again.  I would now be in treatment for the rest of my life.

If you are a Stage IV cancer patient, you know firsthand how isolating and horrifying this diagnosis can be. If you support an advanced cancer fighter, you may experience the shadows this daunting prognosis involves. I believe advocacy is an amazing avenue to both ignite personal power and collectively drive change – it motivates me to keep moving forward, no matter the day’s darkness.

Being introduced in 2015 to American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network(ACS CAN) allowed me to make the diagnosis a microphone.  Through ACS CAN’s platform, I have not only found my metastatic cancer fighter voice but have had the opportunity to advocate for one of the most vulnerable populations:  Stage IV cancer patients.

What is advocacy? 

In her provocative presentation in Philadelphia at the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Metastatic Conference in April, Triage Cancer CEO, Joanna Morales, described advocacy as multi-leveled. The Spectrum of Advocacy triangle she profiled includes layers:  personal, community, organizational, media, research and scientific, policy, and legislative.  I want to work ALL levels of this triangle concurrently and hope to continue to have these types of the following opportunities:

When I –

  • Ask my doctor a question to help me stay alive and active: personal advocacy
  • Speak at a public medical forum to move the needle on cancer care in the Las Vegas area:community advocacy
  • Chat with a TV anchor about my metastatic cancer fight: media advocacy
  • Share my story with an elected official in order to drive change: legislative advocacy

Why is it important for people to engage in advocacy?  Is cancer really a team sport?

The alternative – low funding for metastatic cancer research, lack of education, misperceptions, horrific healthcare outcomes – is not acceptable.  Fierce, collective efforts are needed to effect change.  The status quo must be eliminated at all levels. The only way to drive lasting change is through concerted advocacy efforts.  As such, this important work must continue.  And so, through telling our stories, it will.

Today, I have the physical strength and ability to speak and make my voice be heard.  I consider it my personal obligation – and a valuable opportunity – to use that gift to its fullest.  Working with the ACS CAN in my current role a Lead Volunteer, Congressional District 1, Nevada, has connected me with an amazing additional support structure.  I heavily rely on ACS CAN Team Nevada’s ongoing unwavering and amazing encouragement.

Advanced cancer does not let up, so neither should I as a fierce fighter.  My primary task as a cancer patient is to focus on my health.  I believe this laser-beam focus on health includes the positive connectedness that advocacy provides.  My answer to the question “Why advocacy?” could well be “Why not?”

Advocate about what and whom?

My areas of advocacy focus: increased funding for metastatic cancer research, issues impacting those living with a chronic disease – particularly advanced cancer patients – and changing both perceptions and the landscape around Stage IV fighters and their supporters.

While I have been a proud Las Vegas local for more than 24 years, I also soberly recognize that my home state of Nevada ranks 46 out of 50, 47 out of 50, and 49 out of 50 in several major healthcare spending and outcomes standards. My work is indeed cut out for me!  These rankings ignite me to never stay silent about the urgent need for change in my community.

I recently returned from the ACS CAN Lobby Day in Washington DC.  Meeting with Senator Cortez Masto, Representative Amodei, and a staff member from Representative Titus’ office and sharing my metastatic fight story was an honor.  Seeing 40,000 bags around the National Mall, each lovingly decorated with a name of a fighter, survivor, or one lost to cancer, during the Lights of Hope ceremony, was moving and profound.

How to get started?

Each cancer fighter, survivor, and supporter is unique.  I encourage advocacy focus be an individual choice.  One size does not fit all. Physical health may determine levels of ability to take action.

What is great about advocacy is that it can include work from home at any hour.  Sending emails to elected officials and communication – talking and writing – about needed change can be done on an as-able, project basis – perfect for the ups and downs of cancer treatment schedules.  I encourage taking even small steps every month to not only add your voice to ongoing issues but ask for critical change. Every incremental step forward helps.

Fighting Stage IV metastatic cancer requires my diligence and vigilance at the highest levels.  I also believe my fight requires copious amounts of energy and fierce physical activity to stay strong.

Advocacy has not only allowed me to share my story to impact change but has become a source of vital support in my ongoing fight.  It has become my go-to way to not only speak on behalf of my metastatic cancer community but receive ongoing encouragement.    That’s a win/win for me.

Samantha Skelton
ss@triagecancer.org