Advocacy day promotes cancer research awareness

In order to promote and advocate for cancer research awareness, the Cancer Research Advocacy Group invites cancer survivors, scholars and researchers to share their insights. 

On May 17, on Cancer Research Advocacy Day, cancer survivors, researchers and scholars from all over the nation will join the campus community to discuss the significance of advocacy.

Susan Stewart, member of CRAG, said in an email that the two-year campus group will introduce themselves as cancer advocates to the campus community particularly to researchers and those interested in advocacy.

“Our mission is to advocate the human perspective to researchers, clinicians and the community that positively impacts both experiences and outcomes for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers,” Stewart said.

As a four-year ovarian cancer survivor, Stewart said she was faced with challenges to adjust to her “new normal.” With CRAG, Stewart found a group to give back to those who may need help.

With researchers and advocates from across the nation, Stewart hopes advocacy day and its lessons will support CRAG’s continuing efforts to promote impactful research with scientists.

“Face-to-face meetings with researchers and advocates at the event also provides an opportunity to identify ourselves as potential partners in the fight against cancer,” Stewart said.

Erik Nelson, assistant professor in LAS, participated in organizing Cancer Research Advocacy Day and will be speaking on the day.

Nelson said in an email that he believes that in many cases, scientific advances would not have been made without advocates. He hopes advocacy day will introduce scientists to the concept of working with advocates.

“Working with patient advocates helps us to focus our research efforts on topics that will have near-term impact on areas important to patients,” Nelson said. “On the other hand, advocates are tremendous ambassadors for the science, both in terms of informing the community of the important work that we are doing, as well as lobbying for increased spending on research.”

Another featured keynote speaker, Yibin Kang, professor in molecular biology at Princeton University, will discuss his history with breast cancer research and patient connections inspiring his studies.

“I believe there is a need for connecting the two communities, the science and the advocates,” Kang said. “This will benefit both parties in terms of educating patients about related events, but also making scientists aware of the urgent needs of patients and help focus our efforts in those that matter the most for patients.”

Kang said the event has great significance for cancer survivors advocating for greater awareness in cooperation with medical professionals, scholars and other officials alike.

“In Illinois, I think it’s a major step forward to foster closer collaborator interactions between the community working both in the research and also in the area of treatment for the patients,” Kang said.

While medical breakthroughs and public support raise awareness, Kang said he believes scientists and advocates should work together to educate the general public. 

Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, assistant professor in ACES and co-founder of CRAG, said in an email that while there are many advocates passionate about cancer research, financial support becomes a barrier from acting on the matter.

“Many of the advocates cannot go to scientific meetings because conference registration, travel, hotel etc. are very costly. There are limited number of scholarships offered for advocates,” Madak-Erdogan said.  “I think it is time for academic institutions to start supporting advocates and making them an integral part of the cancer research ecosystem.”

Emphasizing the importance of advocacy, Nelson said Cancer Research Advocacy Day is one of many steps CRAG will take to increase the presence of advocates in cancer research.

“Although there is an increased emphasis on advocacy, there can always be more. This is definitely the case for advocates working with scientists,” Nelson said.

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