By Michele E. Gaguski, MSN, RN, AOCN®, CHPN, NE-BC, APN-C

As an oncology advanced practice nurse and administrator for cancer services, every day I care for patients and caregivers coping with cancer. I mentor nursing staff in best practices to deliver care, and I create a work environment conducive to advancing quality cancer care.

However, my commitment to supporting people with cancer does not end at the walls of my workplace.  Oncology nurses are called to be a visible change agent in our communities—and beyond—to continue the worthy work of championing quality care for people diagnosed with cancer, along with spreading prevention and early detection information.

Influencing health policy and educating lawmakers in your own home community is not only rewarding personally and professionally, but it also serves as a catalyst to motivate other nurses to join in cancer advocacy. For years, I have volunteered for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) as an ambassador, and I have communicated with our legislators via phone calls, emails, and social media to continue to support the much-needed funding for cancer research through clinical trials, early prevention and detection programs in New Jersey, and more. I’m also an ONS advocate.

In March 2019, I participated in a visit to Representative Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ). I was joined by the ACS CAN New Jersey and Delaware grassroots manager, ACS CAN staff, along with other advocates—including patients—to discuss with Representative Van Drew various cancer-focused pieces of legislation. Our discussions included continued funding for cancer research at the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health, the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), and the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (H.R. 1570 and S. 668).

Each advocate took a piece of legislation and shared his or her story with Representative Van Drew, explaining why we were there and how cancer has affected our lives. As an oncology nurse and a person who has lost a brother and nephew to cancer, this “ask” is an easy one. I believe it’s extremely important to advocate for our patients at every opportunity and to let our lawmakers know that nurses are experts in patient care, care management, and how health policy directly impacts patients in our home states and throughout the nation.

During the visit, Van Drew voiced his support and thanked me for my work as a nurse. It was an empowering experience, and he said he wanted to bring Congress together on these cancer-related issues. He spoke to being fully supportive of legislation related to our cancer causes and agreed to be a cosponsor of PCHETA. It was a meaningful visit for ACS CAN advocates, nurses, and especially our patients.

The first step in making a difference in health policy starts at home by serving as a local nursing leader and developing relationships with your policymakers!