• Spreading Hope and Health – My Journey from Volunteer to Breast Cancer Advocate

    Personal Stories, Advocacy


     Post by Komen Advocate in Science Member Madeline Long-Gill

    Twelve years ago, when I walked up to the registration table in St. Louis, Missouri, I signed up to volunteer for the upcoming Race for the Cure in memory of my mother-in-law Carolyn Gill who passed away from breast cancer.

    But that was only the beginning. My breast cancer journey continued with my mother, my aunt, and then with my own diagnosis in 2011. No one wants to hear, “I am sorry to tell you, you have breast cancer,” but volunteering and being a part of the Komen St. Louis family made hearing those words so much easier! I reached out to Helen Chesnut, Executive Director of Komen St. Louis, right after my diagnosis because I felt lost. My mother was in the midst of her breast cancer diagnosis (her breast cancer surgery came one month before mine), so she could not be there for me – neither physically nor psychologically. She could not handle both our diagnoses.

    Helen was always just a phone call or email away. She was by my side, helping me vet my doctors and navigate the healthcare system. She was the first individual I met who was truly a “survivor and a great advocate.”

    Volunteering in Prince George’s County, Maryland for Global Race For the Cure with (far left) my mother and aunt.”

    Helen was one of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to bea member of Komen’s Advocates in Science (AIS). I am merely giving back the excellence and servant leadership that was given to me four years ago.

    As an AIS member, I have participated as an advocate reviewer in the peer review process that Komen conducts each year as to determine which research grants will be recommended for funding. I am completely in awe of the brilliance in the breast cancer research community. We often hear the daunting breast cancer statistics, especially for African-American women, but being around such brilliant and passionate researchers and advocates showed me that all hope is not lost! I came away from the review process simply excited as a survivor and an advocate.

    It is important to me that others, particularly African-American and Hispanic/Latina women, have this same hope if they are diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother’s reaction to her diagnosis is how many women in our community react. She is the rule; not the exception. This passion drove me to found Supporting Our Sisters International, Inc.. Our mission is to support our African-American and Hispanic/Latina sisters with a message of health, hope, healing and quality care. We are dedicated to improving knowledge and access across the continuum of cancer care, and we are helping women adapt healthier lifestyles in order to help reduce the risk

    of breast cancer recurrence. Many studies show that weight gain is a risk factor for breast cancer after menopause, and women who engage in regular physical activity have a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared with women who are sedentary. It is our goal to help create informative change within the breast cancer movement.

    The best  practices Komen incorporates into its work have been highly influential in how Supporting Our Sisters International carries out our mission. We have incorporated many of the great values learned during my years as a volunteer, through my personal experience, as well as from my experience as one of Komen’s AIS members. I am excited to be a part of the survivor advocacy community – both as an individual and through Supporting Our Sisters International. We are excited to develop and implement new resources for women facing breast cancer, and be a voice for survivors.

    It will take all hands on deck to save lives and end breast cancer, and I am honored to be on board!

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