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Special Advocacy Update: A message from ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse

A recap of Lights of Hope, Leadership Summit, & Lobby Day.

The last few weeks have been punctuated with the very best of ACS CAN: volunteer and staff doing what is at the core of our mission, advocating on behalf of all those touched by cancer.  Last week, nearly 700 participants representing all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and from nearly every congressional district – plus a few guests from around the globe – participated in our annual Leadership Summit & Lobby Day, which came right on the heels of an extraordinary weekend celebration of our 11th Lights of Hope ceremony. As you’ll read below, the events delivered impact through patient advocacy and raised critical funds for our mission. 

I could not be more proud of our phenomenal volunteers and staff, both around the country and here in D.C., who have worked relentlessly for the past several months to execute these events. We spoke often of finding “silver linings” in the virtual format and, while I cannot wait to be reunited with our advocates in-person, our 2021 events were powerful and productive. My sincerest gratitude goes to all who had a hand in these incredible last few weeks. 

Lights of Hope: Volunteers Once Again Bring Hope to Communities Across America

We celebrated our 11th annual Lights of Hope event on Saturday, September 18, by honoring our loved ones with 55,000 decorated bags dedicated to all those whose lives have been touched by cancer. The hour-long livestream event featured stunning Lights of Hope displays in locations across the country. It was such a joy to join ACS CAN Board Chair Sandi Cassese, ACS CAN National Ambassador Team member Jackie Beale and ACS Director of Regional Marketing Desiree Berenguer-Carton live in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Monument as our backdrop throughout the program. 

Volunteers from cities nationwide shared the stories behind their poignant tributes and their motivation to be a cancer advocate. We also heard from several leaders in our fight against cancer, including:

  • Dr. Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of ACS and ACS CAN
  • Senator Crapo (R-ID) and Senator Blunt (R-MO)
  • Chris Boerner, Chief Commercialization Officer, Bristol Meyers Squibb

I highly encourage you to watch the replay of the event here and scroll through the many beautiful images shared by volunteers on social media

In all, Lights of Hope raised nearly $765k in critical funds for ACS CAN’s mission – exceeding our fundraising goal by a phenomenal 8%. Success is all due to the hard work of our dedicated volunteers and staff across the entire enterprise. A shout-out to all our volunteer fundraisers and to the 23 state teams who met or exceeded their goals. Bristol Myers Squibb was the presenting sponsor of our event.

Thank you to every volunteer, colleague and partner who made this moving, impactful event a reality.

Leadership Summit: Celebrating, Reflecting and Preparing

After the emotions and success of Lights of Hope, our volunteers were eager to join back together a week later for our annual Leadership Summit. It is always such a pleasure to celebrate our volunteers’ outstanding commitment to ACS CAN’s advocacy work during not just 2021, but in the two decades since ACS CAN was founded. Sandi Cassese and I each had the chance to present several volunteer and staff awards (see below); we heard from our Federal Relations team about our legislative asks and state-of-play on Capitol Hill, and advocates made final preparations for Tuesday’s Lobby Day.

Lobby Day: Advocates Bring Our Cancer Fight (Virtually) to Capitol Hill

Nearly 700 advocates, including patients, survivors and loved ones donned their signature blue polo shirts and other ACS CAN gear yesterday to make sure cancer is a top priority on Capitol Hill, all while ”logging on” from home! Over the past month participants completed pre-event trainings to hone their asks, and yesterday they dialed into 450 meetings with nearly every congressional office, including approximately 100 member-level meetings and nearly 160 senior-level meetings – particularly impressive numbers given how busy Congress is this fall. 

Advocates urged their lawmakers to:

  • Support increased funding for cancer research & prevention programs with at least $51.7 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $7.6 billion for cancer research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and $559 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) cancer programs, including $275 million for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. 
  • Ensure that the expanded Affordable Care Act tax credits that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2022 are made permanent in the upcoming human infrastructure package. 
  • Cosponsor H.R. 1946/S. 1873, the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act of 2021, legislation that would help Medicare patients access innovative screening technology. 

Volunteers reported back positive and productive conversations with their lawmakers that yielded increased support for and co-sponsorship of our priority issues. So far the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act has gained 10 new House cosponsors and 3 new Senate cosponsors, with numerous other offices also pledging to cosponsor, and Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said that making permanent the expanded ACA subsidies is one of her top priorities.

As in years past, we were joined by several representatives of key partner groups that included the Gates Millennium Scholars, Gen2End Ambassadors and representatives of the ACS Campus Leadership Team. We are so appreciative of the global guests who attended congressional meetings as well, from as far away as Zambia and Denmark. 

Happy Birthday ACS CAN! Our 20th Anniversary Celebration

There was no better way to cap off our Leadership Summit & Lobby Day event than by celebrating ACS CAN’s 20th anniversary and the incredible impact our advocates have achieved since 2001. The event raised $32k for ACS CAN’s critical public policy advocacy work, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors. We had a blast reminiscing – looking through photos from events like Celebration on the Hill and the Fight Back Express bus tour, and attendees even got to test their knowledge with a few rounds of ACS CAN trivia. The competitive spirit of our volunteers and staff was front-and-center as they outbid one another during the return of ACS CAN’s Silent Auction. Between prized items like autographed basketballs, hand-painted art and plenty of ACS CAN swag, the auction raised an additional $6.3K our mission. 

Annual Advocacy Honors Presented to Elected Officials, Volunteers and Staff

During Lobby Day, ACS CAN announced five recipients of our annual National Distinguished Advocacy Awards (NDAA), the highest national advocacy honor bestowed by ACS CAN to elected officials who have demonstrated tremendous leadership in the fight against cancer. 

  • U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ) were honored for their long-time partnership to advance colorectal cancer screening coverage legislation that reduced cost barriers to critical preventive care. The lawmakers championed the legislation year after year until its successful passage late last year. 
  • State Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D-RI) and State Representative Mia Ackerman (D-RI) were both recognized for their work on state legislation requiring colonoscopy coverage after less invasive screening, removing a cost barrier to potentially lifesaving cancer screenings. 
  • Illinois State Representative Mary Flowers received the NDAA for her long-time commitment to health issues, including increased access to biomarker cancer testing. 

Fourteen volunteers and staff also received special recognition awards for their exceptional work advancing ACS CAN’s mission, including: 

  • Sister Maggie Lopez, New Jersey Grassroots Manager, is the 2021 recipient of the Alan Mills Award, ACS CAN’s highest honor for advocacy staff who consistently demonstrate excellence and leadership in the fight against cancer. Throughout her 33-year career with the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN, Sister Maggie has been integral in influencing health policy in her state by coordinating successful campaigns to increase funding for tobacco control, cancer research and prevention programs. Sister Maggie also worked on the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act and led the fight to enhance access to palliative care through the New Jersey Pain Initiative. Beginning in 2022, the Alan Mills Award will be renamed to honor Dave Woodmansee who served a 30-year career with ACS CAN and the American Cancer Society and who is dearly missed. 
  • Megan Wessel, Vice President, Cancer Control, Southeast Region received the ACS Partner of the Year Award, given annually to an American Cancer Society staff member whose collaborative efforts and partnerships with ACS CAN helped further advocacy-related mission goals. Megan consistently incorporates advocacy content into mission literacy efforts and partners with her ACS CAN Florida colleagues on strategy for state tobacco control appropriations and policies. 
  • Aditya Indla was named Emerging Leader of the Year in recognition of his ongoing tobacco prevention efforts and dedication to reducing youth use of e-cigarettes. Aditya is a member of his county's Tobacco Control Coalition, testifies frequently and gathers petition signatures in support of strong tobacco control laws and shows tremendous promise in his advocacy and community activism skills. 
  • ACS CAN also presented the annual award for outstanding service through our Judicial Advocacy Initiative (JAI) to Joe Palmore of Morrison & Foerster’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice. Joe led ACS CAN’s efforts to file five different amicus curiae briefs, allowing the cancer patient perspective to be heard in legal cases impacting cancer issues. Joe also meaningfully supported our health equity work by leading the charge to stop a proposed rule permitting health care providers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals and taking away some rights of individuals with Limited English Proficiency.  

A complete list of award recipients is available here





Amplifying Our Advocacy
In conjunction with Leadership Summit & Lobby Day, ACS CAN launched a new ad campaign urging lawmakers to prioritize increased funding for the NBCCEDP, emphasizing that less than 2 in 10 eligible individuals eligible received breast and cervical cancer screenings through the program. The digital ads run in the D.C. market through tomorrow. 

Media coverage for Lights of Hope has maintained a steady drumbeat over the last few weeks, ramping up throughout the past week leading up to the event. We expect to see additional letters to the editor and post-event articles appear in volunteers’ local media outlets with reports of their successful week as follow-up to their lobby day. 

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