A man standing at the top of a hill that forms a speech bubble shape, filled with all different places where advocacy conversations can take place.

Skin Cancer Advocacy at the Highest Levels

“So, why are we here today?” That one question launched my skin cancer advocacy mission. It wasn't asked by a family member or friend or even someone I had just met on the street. It was asked of me by my state senator in Albany, New York. Let me explain.

I became part of a mission

Quite a few years ago, I was working a part-time job with the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Buffalo, New York. I became aware of a skin cancer advocacy trip a few management types and community members were taking to our state capitol to lobby for the passage of a bill that would restrict salon tanning for minors. This bill would disallow teens under the age of 17 to use tanning beds, which, as we know, subject them to dangerous ultraviolet rays.1

Lobbing day was a busy but exciting day

When my skin cancer became known at work, I was asked to join the lobbying efforts and take the long journey to our capitol building. Lobbying day was on Tuesday that week. Our group had made appointments with selected state senators and the schedule was tight. We had a couple of full-time ACS employees, a few other melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma survivors, and yours truly in our entourage. We took turns sharing our thoughts and stories.

I learned a lot from this experience

Here is what I learned the first time I took part in skin cancer advocacy at the highest levels (and by the way, the bill was passed and signed into law):

Do your research

We knew each senator’s previous voting record on similar bills. We had a pretty good understanding of their stance and why they would support and not support the bill and our efforts. Some were automatically supporting of any bill that would protect children and teens no matter the economic impact. Others were opposed based on the perceived negative impact to local businesses and constituency. At least one had received a campaign donation from a well-known tanning salon chain.

Present your case well

State officials expect professionalism. In my opinion, it is best to have a mix of first-hand testimonies and stories with statistics and facts. Tugging both at the heart and the brain, both in emotion and logic seems to hit the deepest with the most. For some, stories of survival are enough to sway them. For others, graphs and pie charts work well. In dealing with those who are simply ignorant (and there were a few), patience and courtesy go a long way.

Follow up with a note of appreciation

One way to stand out in a good way is to send a thank-you note or email. A couple of the state senators were not able to attend and sent a member of their staff to represent them. Those folks have the ears of our state representatives and showing appreciation for them as well can do nothing but help your cause.

Encourage others to be active

For many, going to the state capitol on a weekday is just not possible. For others, it may seem intimidating. Once you experience your state’s lobbying day, recruit others to join you in future endeavors. I have found that I can affect people one at a time through personal relationships, but I can also affect millions while engaging others in reaching out to their state and local representatives.

To answer your question...

“So, why are we here today?” To save lives, that’s why. I chose to do that through skin cancer advocacy.

What does skin cancer advocacy look like to you?

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