03/23/2012 02:37 pm ET Updated May 23, 2012

The Power of Advocacy In a City Where Power is Everything

An advocate is someone who pleads another's cause, who defends those in need, who speaks up for those who choose not to. My siblings can tell you that I was born to be an advocate and then, by temperament, training and circumstance, spent my life as one, especially in defense of a cause I believed to be right and just.

In September of 1987 I was a successful lawyer in Philadelphia, advocating for my clients, for social justice and women's rights. I was also a wife and the mother of a 14-month old son. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

A diagnosis of breast cancer changes your life, not your character. I wasn't about to passively stand by and let breast cancer take that life. I had a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. And as I began to educate myself about the disease I began to realize how little was known -- and being accomplished -- about it. From there, it was a natural step to becoming an advocate for ending this awful illness.

In the more than 20 years that I have pursued this passion and vocation, I've watched in amazement as our movement has grown. And I watch in admiration as the women and men affiliated with the National Breast Cancer Coalition have learned about this very complex disease and become incredibly competent advocates for its end. I've seen them successfully learn the legislative process at the Federal and state levels and create real progress toward our approach to breast cancer. I've watched our grassroots advocates overcome their own physical and emotional discomfort and fight for others at risk or with breast cancer and demand that our government, our scientific community and our health care providers do the right thing.

As a coalition of advocates, NBCC has been pushing for systematic change since its inception. A year after we were founded, we talked to anyone in Washington who would listen to us about women's health and research dollars. We were clear about what we wanted -- an increase of $300 million above the then allocation of $155 million for breast cancer research. Our voices were heard and today our advocacy efforts have raised nearly $2.8 billion for breast cancer research through federal appropriations for the worldwide scientific community.

While I am proud of our successes in getting funds allocated for research, it's no longer sufficient to settle for incremental victories. We must seek the end of breast cancer. For more years than I care to remember, the same issues about what it will take to end breast cancer have been discussed again and again: we need multidisciplinary work and we need to work together. We really want to do innovative stuff, but "the system" is in the way. Then people go off and do the exact same thing they have always done.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Our Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® initiative is a plea for sanity and a plan to achieve it. We can end breast cancer by 2020 if we refocus resources and efforts to the areas that will end breast cancer. We believe those areas are:

1. Primary prevention: How do we stop people from getting breast cancer in the first place?
2. The causes and prevention of metastasis: How do we stop people from dying of breast cancer?

This May, nearly 1,000 women and men will come to Washington for our Annual Advocate Summit -- formerly our Annual Advocacy Training Conference. They come despite financial challenges. They come despite physical challenges. They come despite their disease. They come to learn. They come to fight. They come to advocate. We hope you'll come to join us.