By Patty Avery, Indiana's first State Lead Ambassador from 2007-2010 for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). She currently serves as a member of the National Ambassador Team for ACS CAN.
Dozens of volunteers lined up for registration, trading stories of their trip to the nation’s capital and hugs for friends from around the country. Suitcases packed into a corner. A session that brought everyone up to date on the progress of a new law to increase funding that will help fight cancer. Time to practice the legislative ask. Small groups in matching shirts huddling in the hallway before their next legislative visit. And stories of positive conversations with staff and legislators.
Sounds like a Lobby Day in the United States, right?
Absolutamente right – Brazil’s first-ever national "Lobby Day" for a patient advocacy group.
For the last three years, the American Cancer Society’s Global Health team, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), has worked to build relationships with organizations that are working to fight cancer in Brazil and around the world. It was time to advance the fight through advocacy. FEMAMA, a coalition of 53 breast cancer organizations that serve one million women and their families, accepted the challenge of planning and carrying out a Brazilian Lobby Day and succeeded in equipping more than 120 survivors, volunteers, and organizational staff to take their message to their nation’s 502 federal representatives and senators in Brasilia, the nation’s capital.
FEMAMA cancer advocates gathered in Brasilia, with a banner calling on the government to increase funding to expand access to health care.
The Society’s Global Health staff, in collaboration with ACS CAN staff, worked with the FEMAMA team for more than a year to create the event. I was privileged to join them and the FEMAMA team on their training day and participate in some of their Lobby Day activities in Brasilia.
I’d lived in Brazil for more than eight years in the 1990s, but hadn’t been back to my adopted country for nearly a decade. As my flight broke through the clouds, I saw the red soil and deep green countryside that were once so familiar to me – and hoped my rusty Portuguese would be enough to help me serve and encourage the FEMAMA team and Lobby Day ambassadors.
I shouldn’t have worried. The instant I saw the matching Lobby Day shirts, the folders full of information on their ask and the planned activities, and overheard the excited conversations in the registration line, I knew I was going to be part of an event that any ACS CAN ambassador would recognize.
And like our ACS CAN volunteers, the women who made their way to Brasilia have been touched in some way by cancer. They work every day to prevent breast cancer and ensure that women have access to screening and treatment – and FEMAMA brought them together to take the fight to their elected officials.
Lobby Day kicked off under increasingly cloudy skies with an event on their equivalent of our National Mall in front of the Brazilian Congress. Volunteers shared their stories with the radio, TV, and print reporters who gathered, and just ahead of the rain, the group made its way to the congressional offices.
During the rest of that morning and early afternoon, the group divided into small teams and succeeded in visiting most of the representatives’ and senators’ offices. They met with staff, explaining their ask for dedicated funds in the federal budget to expand access to health care for the nation’s 200 million citizens. As they did, they told their stories of survivorship and caregiving, demonstrating the importance of these life-saving resources.
The afternoon finished with a presentation hosted by a representative who left a career in nursing to run for office. She spoke of the progress Brazil has made in advancing cancer awareness, screening, and treatment. Throughout the meeting, nearly half a dozen representatives and senators came by to address the gathered volunteers.
The Lobby Day participants beamed as their legislators thanked them for inviting them to the event and shared their commitment to fighting cancer.
We finished the day with a celebration dinner and by asking the group to share their experiences at Brazil’s Capitol. I will never forget the words of one participant:
“I learned today that voting is just a small part of my responsibility as a citizen. I learned the importance of coming where our representatives are and taking the fight against cancer to them…”
And whether it’s in Washington, DC, a state capital, or in Brasilia, isn’t that what Lobby Day is all about?
As a volunteer representing ACS CAN ambassadors, I’d shared in my talk that I will soon have a Brazilian grandson – and that I had joined their fight because I don’t want him to ever hear the words, “You have cancer" in any language.
As Lobby Day Brasiliero ended, I reflected on the passion, dedication, and sheer determination I’d seen in FEMAMA, its partners, and volunteers. I knew that I’d bring back with me a renewed passion for advocacy and a new hope that the amazing women I met will create a future with less cancer and more birthdays for Brazil – and for my grandchildren who will live there.
(More photos of the event can be found at: http://www.femama.org.br/novo/fotos-detalhe.php?menu=fot&id=65)