Monday, October 28, 2019

Stage 4 Needs More: A Granddaughter’s Continued Journey into Breast Cancer Advocacy – Part 2

By Olivia Suárez
Media Relations Coordinator
Texas Medical Association

Editor’s Note: This series is a follow-up to the author’s 2018 five-part series, “Adversity to Advocacy: A Granddaughter’s Story of Stage 4 Breast Cancer,” about her personal experience with metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer, and her return advocacy visit to Washington D.C., in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This post introduces us to some of the other women who participated in Stage IV Stampede.

A wave of familiarity washed over me on Thursday, Oct. 10, when I returned to the Holiday Inn hotel in downtown Washington D.C. to attend advocacy training for METAvivor’s “Stage IV Stampede,” to lobby on cancer patients’ behalf. After losing my grandmother to metastatic breast cancer the year before, I was motivated to convince lawmakers to increase funding for stage 4 cancer research.

New and Not-So-New Faces

METAvivor Stampede volunteers attend a reading from
Andrew Silver's play IV, which dives into the struggles
metastatic breast cancer patients experience.
Photo by Olivia Suarez
The METAvivor advocacy training team briefed us on the bills we should ask members of Congress to support, and what to expect as we visited lawmakers’ offices. They also urged volunteers to advocate for an increase in MBC research funding, but most importantly, to share our stories of how this cancer had affected our lives, or the lives of our loved ones.

When the training wrapped, I attended a live reading of IV, a play by Andrew Silver, exploring the challenges facing many women (and men) living with metastatic breast cancer. I started chatting with a woman seated near me as we awaited the show.

 “I’m here with my sister and some friends,” she said, gesturing to two women with her. A look of surprise struck one of them.

“Olivia!” the woman said. “It’s so nice to see you again!”

I read her nametag, “Tami,” and realized I met her before last year’s march to Capitol Hill. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer a few years ago, and has two young children in New Jersey.

 “Oh my goodness, Tami!” I said, jumping up from my chair to give her a hug. “I didn’t even recognize you! How are you?”

 “Olivia was here at the Stampede last year after she just lost her grandma to MBC,” Tami told her sister, Allison, and friend Eva, as she introduced us. “Isn’t that wonderful that she came here?”

“That is so brave,” Allison said. “What was that like?”

I told the women about my experience last year, and how I wanted to continue helping other families in honor of my grandma.

I explained that I feel my perspective on this disease – how it’s affected me and my family – has evolved, now that a year has gone by. I feel like I can be more effective in these meetings.

“You definitely will be. What you’re doing is so great,” Allison said.

Gypsy Sally’s and A Night at the National Harbor

Metastatic breast cancer patients and advocates
take the stage at Gyspy Sally's in Georgetown.
Photo by Olivia Suarez
After the play, Allison invited me to join them for the rest of the night’s events, which included a benefit concert at Gypsy Sally’s (a local bar), and a special lighting of The Capital Wheel (a huge Ferris wheel at National Harbor, Maryland, adjacent to Washington, D.C.). I was elated to join them!

We crowded around a table at Gypsy Sally’s to watch MBC survivors perform on stage. Some sang original songs while others sang covers, but each performance focused on self-empowerment and the belief that life post-diagnosis will get better. As a singer-songwriter myself, I was deeply moved by the show. I sensed their pain, and even wished I could share the stage with them. So inspiring.

We later headed out to see The Capital Wheel light up in the MBC colors: pink, teal, and green. Many people know a pink ribbon signifies breast cancer, and the MBC ribbon, designed by METAvivor, adds two other colors: green and teal. Green represents triumph of life over death, renewal, hope, and immortality; teal symbolizes healing and spirituality. The Capitol Wheel would shine in these three colors as part of a global campaign called #LightUpMBC, to get more than 80 iconic landmarks in 65 cities across the world to light up in the colors to raise awareness about stage 4 breast cancer. This movement started in honor of a woman named Jessica Moore, who at 32-years-old was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and passed away shortly afterward.

As our Uber approached National Harbor, we could see The Capital Wheel glowing pink, teal, and green.

We all gasped at its beauty. I couldn’t wait to see it up close.

We all stopped in our tracks once we got out of the car.

I craned my neck upward. There, several hundred feet away, the Capital Wheel stood radiantly.
We walked onto the pier, stopping every now and then to capture photos and videos.

“I wish people knew why the wheel was lit up tonight,” said one of the women. “There isn’t a sign or anything that mentions what MBC is or what METAvivor stands for.”

“Maybe we should tell people if they ask,” Allison said.

(Left to right) Allison, Olivia, Eva, Lauren, and Tami pose
in front of The Capital Wheel lit in MBC colors
at the National Harbor. 
Photo by Tami Bowling
We soon had that opportunity when a couple walking by asked if we wanted a group photo. “YES!” we cheered. “Thank you!” After they took our picture, Tami asked them, “Do you know why it’s lit up like this tonight?”

“No,” the woman said, “but we’re curious to know.”

Tami explained the #LightUpMBC campaign, sharing that she and Eva were survivors while the rest of us were patient advocates also affected by MBC.

“Oh my goodness, that’s amazing,” the woman said. “Thank you for telling us, and best of luck with everything.”

We shared those stories with more people, adding that the next day we’d be marching to Capitol Hill and participating in METAvivor’s “Die-In” remembrance event on the Capitol Lawn, then meeting with congressional staff members.

 “Wow, how incredible,” one person said. “We wish you good luck tomorrow. God bless you.”
It seemed a perfect end to a great day. Already, we were raising awareness about the disease.

The next day, Oct. 11, was when our real work would begin.

Watch for the third part of Olivia’s story, “A Morning of Loudness and Silence” on MeAndMyDoctor.com.

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