I thank God, The Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization, The Department of Defense Consumer Reviewer Selection Committee and Constella Health Sciences for making it possible for me to participate on one of the panels as a Consumer Reviewer. This was one of the best experiences of my life.
I first learned about the consumer reviewer position in the spring of 2003 when I attended Project LEAD's basic science training course in Tampa, Florida. One of my classmates had served as a consumer reviewer the year before. Another classmate was in the process of submitting her application. Their enthusiasm caused me to consider applying for one of the positions as well. I did not feel confident enough to apply at that time. Therefore I continued my quest to become more knowledgeable about all aspects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
I participated in the National Breast Cancer Coalition's Rally and Lobby Day activities in Washington, D.C. for the past three years. In 2004, I accepted the challenge of being a team leader. I attended Sisters Network's Annual Conferences in 2003 and 2005. I attended the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December of 2004. I was recertified as a Hotline Peer Counselor for the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization in April of 2004. This combined exposure along with my experiences as a three time survivor of breast cancer gave me the confidence I needed to move forward with the application process. Kay Wissmann of the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization's Advocacy Committee was also instrumental in getting me to complete the process.
I submitted the applications and waited with baited breadth for a reply. When the letter of acceptance arrived, I was filled with tears of joy and laughter. I called everyone I knew to tell them about my good news.
Some of my enthusiasm waned when I received my proposals. I did not think that I would be able to review all twenty three proposals within the allotted time. Not being one to back down from a challenge, I put my life on hold for one month while I delved into the review process. I checked out a copy of the American Medical Association's Medical Dictionary from the local library so that I could better understand concepts and definitions mentioned in the proposals. I took three vacation days towards the end of the review in order to meet my deadline. What a relief it was to finish reviewing all of the proposals.
I had another scary moment when I and my assigned panel members reached the review room. The panel consisted of twenty five members; twenty two members were scientific reviewers; the other three, including me, were consumer reviewers. The room was set up with laptop computers on each desk I was facing panel members whose careers were devoted to the scientific aspect of breast cancer. I was expected to give verbal and electronic responses to the proposals assigned to me. This was a bit daunting. I am proud to say that after the first two proposals, I had the routine down pat. The sessions ended on happy notes for me.
As a result of this experience, I feel more empowered. I have a better understanding of the processes whereby normal breast cells become cancerous. I understand the role and responsibilities of scientific reviewers. I understand the requirements for becoming a breast cancer researcher. I understand the grant writing process. I understand the importance of funding breast cancer research. I understand the role consumers play in the review process. I am more aware of the things I can do to promote good health. I am confident that researchers are hard at work trying to find a cure for this dreaded disease. I am aware that better diagnostic tools and treatment options are constantly being discovered.
I have come full circle from the days when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer nearly twenty five years ago. I am no longer afraid to ask questions or explore different treatment options. I feel better equipped to continue my breast cancer advocacy work. I will encourage other breast cancer survivors to become consumer reviewers. It is a life changing experience.