by Laurie Spiegel
This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a weeklong, deep-dive training course in the science and biology of breast cancer, offered by the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). As a FORCE Peer Navigator, FORCE-trained research advocate through the FRAT program and newly installed member of the Board of Directors, I was looking to build on my self-acquired knowledge base to be a better breast cancer advocate. NBCC’s Project Lead was the right choice for me.
The science of breast cancer is multidimensional and runs deep, from its biology to cutting-edge research and approaches to treatment, and it continues to advance at an increasing pace. Our group of 35 advocates gathered in San Diego to learn from some of the best professors and researchers. We basically had a college semester’s worth of training in Genetics, Epidemiology and Immunology. My training colleagues were interested, engaged, friendly and fun. We shared our personal stories over meals and worked together in small study groups to review the material and answer many tough questions. The program was well-organized, the leaders were supportive and caring and the quality of education was outstanding.
I came away with a sense of awe in the science that has been discovered, and the dedication of the scientists who continue to learn, teach and uncover that which remains unknown. I see the knowledge I’ve gained through Project Lead and the relationships I’ve developed as catalysts for expanding my level of engagement as a breast cancer advocate. In my peer navigation role, I feel better prepared to support women with a wider range of cancer types and stages and to discuss the latest in treatment options. At the same time, I can more confidently participate in research advocacy areas such as cutting-edge surveillance methods, testing protocols, immunotherapies and vaccines.
As a breast cancer survivor and patient advocate, I believe that education is fundamental to making informed choices and invoking change. I hope to use my training to help inform others, who in turn will be able to make better choices for themselves and perhaps become an advocate as I have. Thus, I become a vital link in a chain of many for advocacy and change.