Earlier this month, LUNG FORCE Heroes from across the country went to Washington, D.C., for the American Lung Association's second annual LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day. Our editorial team talked to John F. Emanuel, JD, Lung Association Board Chair, about his experiences on Capitol Hill and how he sees LUNG FORCE growing in the future.
Q. What made the biggest impression on you during this year's LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day?
A. Two things really made an impact on me during our Advocacy Day activities. First, the visits to Capitol Hill that were made by our LUNG FORCE Heroes, those living with or impacted by lung cancer, were both moving and effective. I've been to Washington, D.C., multiple times to advocate for the American Lung Association and public health, and it never fails to impress me how important our role is in the making of public health policy in this country.
Congress hears a lot from special interests, but when we take our lung cancer stories to Congress and advocate on behalf of all Americans for more lung cancer research funding and quality, affordable healthcare, they hear us. We've got folks standing in front of senators and representatives telling them that their key to living longer is the next treatment or medication discovered through research. We really have a chance to move the needle through our public health advocacy – this work matters.
Additionally, during the reception on the evening after the visits, we gathered together LUNG FORCE Heroes from every state along with Lung Association staff and volunteers, and the energy was incredible. You could feel the commitment and dedication, shared by everyone in the room, to defeat lung cancer. It was extremely powerful.
Q. Was there a particular Hero you spoke with who inspired you the most during Advocacy Day?
A. When Ashely R. from Pennsylvania got up and told her story about being diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 19, I think we were all floored. She's 24 years old today (thanks to recent successes in research) and hoping for continued advances in that research. That's a profound story to bring to Congress. We are all pulling for Ashley and others like her whose hopes depend on continued research funding. And of course, Adam Klein, who was the Season 33 winner of “Survivor,” shared his very emotional and compelling story of his mother's passing from lung cancer, which brought tears to many.
Q. What are the challenges and opportunities that may come out of the current legislative environment in Washington?
A. The challenges are obvious – there are many special interests and some in the administration who have priorities opposed to ours in regard to our key mission imperatives, including clean air and lung health; regulation of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes; and the importance of affordable, quality healthcare. The opportunity this creates is for us to use this threat to galvanize people who are aligned with our mission to help make the case for public health, whether that's becoming an e-advocate, an event participant, donor and fundraiser, or a volunteer.
Q. What would you like to see LUNG FORCE accomplish in the next year? The next five?
A. Of course, I would love to see a cure for lung cancer. If that's not possible in the next few years, then I think we can continue to educate more people about the risk of lung cancer and continue to shine a light on this disease and on the importance of research, patient education, screening, better treatments and prevention.
I also hope we can continue to engage and excite people through LUNG FORCE and bring people into our constituency to support our organization and our strategic imperative to defeat lung cancer. I'm proud of the work we've been doing and the leadership we are showing in lung cancer - I believe that the American Lung Association has really put the fight against lung cancer on the map and I hope that brings in all who are affected by it.
Q. What is the most satisfying part of your role as Chair of the Board of Directors?
A. There are many very gratifying facets to that role, but probably the most satisfying part is the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of volunteers and staff. When you get this deeply involved in the organization and see it from the inside what really impresses you are the incredible people who work at this every day to make the mission happen. When you see their passion and dedication to and belief in the cause, and you come to appreciate the tremendous amount of work that goes into everything the Lung Association does – it's pretty easy to catch that excitement and get pulled into the mission. And the more deeply involved you are, the more you appreciate that what we do really does matter. Advocacy is a prime example – we have the ability to influence the public policies and laws that affect people's lives. That's pretty exciting.