When you’re a kid in high school, the last thing you expect to hear is that your mother has an advanced form of cancer you had never heard about. But that was the reality for me and my sister when our mom, Mary Kay Sanford, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in early June of 2000. It was a shock that is indescribable and it changed all of our lives forever. It turned me, my sister, and my dad into caregivers and after my mom passed away in 2006, the way I looked at the disease and advocacy changed forever.
My mom was a communications professional, running her own public and media relations firm for most of my childhood. When she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery, her busy life was altered and she had to make some tough decisions regarding her involvement in work and volunteer efforts. She focused on researching treatment options, learning about clinical trials, and advocating on behalf of patients nationwide. As she traveled to different cities and conferences, she used her strong voice and knowledge of spreading her message on behalf of other young parents who did not have a voice or knowledge. That’s where I first started thinking about advocacy myself.
Being a local event director for Get Your Rear in Gear – Charlotte as well a Call on Congress advocate has given me the opportunity to use my strengths to have a real impact on colorectal cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Raising money for screening services and other needs on the local level has a very real and tangible impact in Charlotte, NC. When we discuss the policies related to the disease and easier access to screening with our congressional representatives and their policy directors, we don’t present abstract items. We present our stories and the stories of their constituents and the public health benefits of the removal of red tape and accessible screening for all.
Being a caregiver is simple, especially for children who may think that they are not providing care for a parent with colorectal cancer. Sitting with a parent at a treatment facility while they receive chemotherapy is being a caregiver. Picking up a meal for your parent with a bunch of specific modifications because treatment has hurt their appetite is being a caregiver. Giving your parent a hug and expressing love through your actions and words is being a caregiver. Getting involved with a local fundraiser and as a local or national advocate is being a caregiver.
I’m happy to be an advocate because through this advocacy I realized that I was a caregiver for my mom when she was sick.
Editor’s Note: Philip had been planning to be on Capitol Hill today with Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Call on Congress today sharing his story to make an impact on colorectal cancer policy and funding. The day on the hill is not happening, but you can still share your story and make an impact through Fight Colorectal Cancer’s advocacy efforts.
Get Your Rear in Gear – Charlotte was also cancelled for 2020, in order to keep our community safe amid the spread of COVID-19. Philip is an important part of planning that event. Virtual support for that event and the work done in Charlotte, NC on behalf of screening, education, and patient support is still appreciated.