The American Cancer Society CAN’s Leadership Summit and Lobby Day was held last week in Washington D.C. Dalton Vanderford joined the fight for legislative change.
Plant City took its fight against cancer to the nation’s capital last week when a local resident joined hundreds of cancer advocates at the American Cancer Society CAN’s Leadership Summit and Lobby Day events.
Dalton Vanderford, a USF student and Plant City resident, joined the group on its trip to Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to meet with lawmakers over several days to discuss some of the changes ACS CAN hopes to see that can lead to a stronger fight against cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy affiliate, ACS Cancer Action Network, is the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization. Volunteer groups from every state and all 435 congressional districts took the journey to D.C. to meet with politicians and discuss at every level of government what can be done to “improve our ability to prevent, detect and treat cancer.”
“It was definitely a tremendous learning experience. There were so many things I was doing for the very first time,” Vanderford said. “But to just have those conversations and to see how many people are impacted by cancer, it really puts this into a new perspective. So many people have been affected and they’re there and they’re willing to get involved in their community and in politics and fight for necessary legislation that can literally save lives.”
The group had four asks, Vanderford said: increase funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (including the National Cancer Institute), to ask members to cosponsor and advocate for the passage of the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, to fix the colorectal cancer loophole to ensure seniors with Medicare have access to lifesaving cancer prescreening and to support tobacco control initiatives to prevent and reduce tobacco use.
When Vanderford first was asked to represent Plant City at the summit, he said he wasn’t sure what he was getting into but knew he wanted to be a part of it. His free time has always been nonexistent as he threw himself into countless projects on top of his workload and schooling. But he said when it comes to issues he’s passionate about, he “makes it work.” A full-time student, Vanderford also currently works four jobs and has been on the Relay For Life of Plant City’s committee for years. He’s also juggling involvement in theater troupes and other groups across the county.
At first, he thought going to D.C. would mean he would simply observe what was going on. During check-in, however, he learned he was signed up in a much more active role. He had the opportunity to sit down with legislators and discuss the issue one-on-one.
“It was definitely very intimidating at first, but once you sit down with them you realize they’re real people, you connect with them,” Vanderford said. “Politicians are not these crazy monsters people make them out to be. They’re human beings and we all care about a lot of the same things. You just have to find that common ground and go from there.”
The experience sparked a new flame of passion in Vanderford and he said an opportunity arose for him to get more involved with ACS, which he gladly took on. Running on approximately two to four hours of sleep a night —with an occasional day to “crash” — he said he’s learning firsthand how to prioritize what matters to you and to give everything you have to the commitments you make. It’s something he said he hopes others really take the time to evaluate. If people start to pinpoint where their passions lie and take an active role in those causes, he said, there is a chance to start seeing meaningful change.
Despite his youth, Vanderford said he felt he was able to both learn a lot about the legislative process and make meaningful impacts on those he spoke with. Looking ahead, he’s excited to see what changes the community will be able to bring to life with their perseverance and dedication toward finding a cure.
“Cancer is something that affects everyone,” Vanderford said. “If you haven’t personally faced the diagnosis, you more than likely know someone who has. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status. Everyone deals with this so its so important that everyone gets involved. You can simply go to the ACS website and become a member for $10 or show up to your local Relay For Life. Start small if you need to, but definitely get involved.”