Reflecting on 2023

December 12, 2023

It was around this time last year when our little team gave thought to what we were looking forward to in 2023. A return to more in-person listening and learning was one of our top items. It was incredible to do that in so many different ways this year. 

We first brought back our Stretch Heal Grow healing retreat to support people with breast cancer in person, surrounded by nature. Right after that, we dove into the Canadian Breast Cancer Symposium, which felt so powerful too. To be able to be face-to-face with leading experts in breast cancer here in Canada and feel the energy shifts in the room as our patient voices projected from the podium — it was incredibly moving and transformative. And then our Sex and Body event! While it was educational, it also included some mixing and mingling and fun that was a great reminder there is healing in just getting to hang together in community. So, needless to say, there’s definitely more of all this on the agenda for 2024. 

Another one of our goals heading into 2023 was to launch a national advocacy campaign to address challenges and delays in cancer drug access in Canada. For the past two years, it’s been a roller coaster of excitement and hope around new breakthrough treatments on the horizon alongside frustration and heartbreak fielding calls from people who desperately needed the treatments “yesterday.” As we juggled supporting individuals trying to access these new treatments case by case, we were also planning for broader system change. Because enough is enough. We landed on Break Through the Bullsh*t and were thrilled the launch included bringing our advocacy day back in person too. Because in person listening and learning is effective for government too. 

And now we’re here, reflecting on 2023, looking ahead to 2024. To be honest, it can boggle our minds how much work goes into advocacy. While I lead Rethink, a lot of my time and energy these days goes into our advocacy efforts. 

Advocacy is not just raising an issue. It’s not just creating a report that then sits on someone’s desk. It involves a lot of fact finding, meetings with all stakeholders – patients, healthcare professionals and health agencies – just to land on strategy and develop an “ask” that is doable and will have impact. Then, it’s a lot of behind-the-scenes advocacy to engage political leaders and decision makers in our recommendations and training advocates to participate in the ask with a public campaign. 

There are many barriers to advocacy. Governments are constantly being advocated to on many issues – broad social issues (education, housing), broad health issues (access to family doctors, ER wait times, etc.). And then when it comes down to more disease specific issues, there are 100s of orgs lobbying government. 

So, as an advocacy organization, we’re fighting for airtime, we’re building coalitions, we’re showing up and we’re staying on it. Advocacy takes constant follow up. And it can be really exhausting. 

Lately, we’ve been feeling like policy makers are doing very little to improve access to cancer drugs. Maybe we’re feeling a little salty over the B.S. that is Take-Home Cancer Treatments. There’s been zero action and no funding has been allocated since the announcement by the Ontario government more than 18 months ago. It can grind you down. But we keep showing up. Because we have to. Our inspiration, our energy and our comes from the community. 

Because our job is to show decision makers the devastating impact their lack of action has on the community. 

We had our last government meeting of 2023 for this campaign yesterday. Now, we’ll rest and regroup. And we’ll be back advocating on drug access in the New Year, while continuing to provide support and building community. Because advocacy does not and cannot exist in isolation. Its only possible with community. A community that’s been supported to process their own cancer experience and in turn is given opportunities to be a part of improving things for others too. It’s all connected. 

In 2024, we’ll resume our conversations, focussing on key decision makers in other areas of the country, including Federal Bureaucratic bodies, Federal MPs, and MLAs in other Provinces (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan).​​

Plus, for those near Toronto, Ontario, we have something exciting happening just in time for World Cancer Day… It’s advocacy-related and may involve pens, paper and time in community. Stay tuned for more! 

Finally, thank you so much for everyone who has been a part of rethinking breast cancer with us this year. We’re grateful and excited to continue our work together in 2024. 

MJ DeCoteau
Founder + Executive Director
Rethink Breast Cancer

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