Nov. 6, 2004 Julie German Evert of St. Thomas is a breast cancer survivor and advocate. She will be learning more about breast cancer advocacy at Project LEAD, an innovative science and advocacy training program for breast cancer activists presented by the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund. The course will be held in Washington, D.C., Nov. 10-14.
When Evert was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, she saw that she could handle it in one of two ways. "I could be a lemming and trust what my doctors told me, or I could be proactive in my treatment," she says. Evert had a 4-year-old son at the time of her diagnosis, and wanted to see him live his life. She chose to be proactive, questioning her doctors and insisting on an aggressive course of treatment.
"The treatment I chose is not part of the standard protocol. There were options available to me that were not told to me. It was only through my own research that I discovered the treatment," she says.
Evert has had a clean bill of health for three years now. During her course of chemotherapy she decided to try to help others. She told her story again and again: to members of the Virgin Islands Bar, to women in the community, to anyone who asked her to speak to them. Now, when a woman on St. Thomas is diagnosed with breast cancer, that woman calls Evert for support. "I meet with these women. They want to know what the surgery looks like. They want to know what to ask. When you're told you have cancer you're overwhelmed. The world gets sucked out through your ears and nothing is ever the same," Evert says. "They want to know what the options are, what chemo is like, what the steps are. A lot of them need to know where to go. These women want assurances that they're not going to die, that they'll be OK."
But even while counseling these women, Evert admits she doesn't have all the answers. "You have to do it a step at a time. You have to wait for the biopsy. After surgery, decide on treatment. I can't project for these people. I'm there for moral support. I'm not the 'be all, end all,' but I'm pretty open about it. And I'm willing to bare my chest for these women. It's not as disfiguring as you would imagine. I help them get to the next step and figure out what to do."
Now, Evert will take that advocacy to the national level. "When you're hit with this, it is life changing. I can make a difference. I don't want to sit down and do nothing. There's too much that needs to be done. It's not an option for me to rest. I want to be active with policy making. I want to be active on a national level. I'll make those connections."
Evert has been accepted to study with Project LEAD, the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund's science training course designed to help breast cancer activists influence research and public policy where breast cancer research decisions are made. The curriculum includes lectures and study sessions on cell biology, the microbiology of cancer, genetics, epidemiology of cancer and critical appraisal of research design.
While there, Evert will study under scientists from academic and research institutions such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Tufts University, Johns Hopkins University, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Cochrane Collaboration.
Evert will also coordinate an annual breast cancer conference on St. Thomas geared to physicians and treating professionals in the Caribbean. "I think people in their lifetime get touched with certain issues. For whatever reason, I've been touched with breast cancer," she says. "I want to do something to change it, to find a cure or stop it from spreading. I'm in a position where I know I can make a difference. I feel like this is one of the reasons I'm here. One is to be a mother. One is to make a difference with breast cancer."
The National Breast Cancer Coalition is the nations largest breast cancer advocacy group. Committed to ending breast cancer, the Coalition works to educate and train individuals to be effective activists and to influence the public policies that affect breast cancer research and treatment. For more information, visit www.stopbreastcancer.org.
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