Being Your Own Best Advocate

June 14, 2011 Marci McNaghten

I recently agreed to write a short item for a Web site highlighting issues that impact adult survivors of childhood cancer. I was asked to come up with something for the Web site’s “Advocacy” section. I said, “Sure, I can do that,” without really thinking about it, but later found the topic a little challenging.

I realized that advocacy to me meant writing letters to legislators or visiting the state capitol to lobby for a particular issue – neither of which I’d done for any cancer-related causes. As I was struggling with what to write, I started broadening my definition of advocacy. I decided it could also mean just getting the information you need to make good decisions about whatever cause you’re supporting – including your health.

Here’s what I wrote:

I ended treatment for leukemia in 1983 when I was 16. At the time there weren’t many longtime survivors of childhood cancer, and there wasn’t much research about future health problems I might face as a survivor. So over the years it’s been up to me to figure out how new research findings about late effects of treatment might impact my health.

For instance, when I heard that female survivors of childhood cancer might be at risk of second cancers like breast cancer, I got pretty anxious. And when I decided to have kids, I wondered if I’d have fertility problems. But after reading and talking to oncologists, I learned that neither issue was likely to affect me based on the type of radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs I had received. (Plus I now have two beautiful boys to prove that, fortunately, fertility wasn’t an issue.)

Many resources exist today for people (kids and adults) who are ending cancer treatment – including follow-up plans with information about what to monitor in the future. But I still believe it’s up to each person to be their own advocate, to seek out the experts and information that will keep them in-the-know about their health needs after cancer. For me, making sure I’m informed about medical issues that could impact me has helped me feel proactive about my health and calmed my anxieties about it.

Special Note: Soon after writing the above entry, I stumbled across a great resource about self advocacy from the National Coalition of Cancer Survivors (NCCS). It’s called Self Advocacy: A Cancer Survivor’s Handbook. You can download or order the book for free: NCCS believes that cancer becomes a much lesser foe when faced by informed and knowledgeable health care consumers who know how to communicate their needs to those who can be helpful to them as they experience cancer. This handbook focuses on self-training steps and tools to assist and empower individuals dealing with cancer.

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