By Ghecemy Lopez
When I completed my Project LEAD® training last summer, I never imagined how many research and community advocacy opportunities I would experience in such a condenced period of time.
My first research-related experience happened just a few months after Project LEAD when a few graduates and I received a scholarship from the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation (ABCF), to attend the annual, world-renowned San Antonio Breast Cancer Research Symposium in Texas. It was an extraordinary week-long event that gathered near 8,000 researchers, oncologists, surgeons and advocates with the purpose of showcasing the latest research discoveries in the fight against breast cancer. It was exciting to understand most of the conversation and to be able to voice our patient advocate perspective with pharmaceutical companies, research labs and leading experts who shared their projects with us. We made great connections with people from all over the world. And upon returning from the conference, I wrote my first research article—more than 2,200 words. My article was edited by Cancer Magazine for future publication in the annual Hot Topics CD presented by ABCF. My topic was based on one of the symposium presentations and talks about the role of genetics and microenvironments in the development of breast cancer tumors.
A few weeks later, I was nominated and became a consumer reviewer for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP). In early 2013, I traveled to Washington, DC, and took part in the collaborative group of scientists and fellow patient advocates who reviewed hundreds of proposals sent by different national and international scholars who were applying for federal grants to partially fund breast cancer research projects. This was certainly a one-of-a-kind experience and I am thrilled that I recently received an invitation to return again.
Also in early 2013, I was invited by a fellow Californian and NBCC mentor to join the board of the Breast Cancer Care Research Foundation (BCCRF), an organization whose mission is to educate and promote clinical research, access to quality care and advocacy for women with breast cancer and their supporters. Soon after, I was invited to collaborate with a group of wonderful researchers as an advocate in a research proposal that focuses on study patients from my same Latino heritage.
More recently, another group of valuable researchers I admire in the University of Southern California (USC) invited me to be part of the advisory committee of patient advocates to prepare and present a proposal that involves the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) community at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In summary, these past few months have been very rewarding and I am looking forward to continue collaborating in all the advisory committees, community organizations and hospitals that I currently support. Project LEAD taught me not just the basics of breast cancer research and its importance in the fight against this disease, but it also taught me how to be the voice for my community in any cancer research proposal that I am involved with, either as a collaborator or as a reviewer.