Raising awareness of breast cancer is always easier said than done, especially when it's often so difficult to speak with people who have any real influence or power. So, when Alison got the chance to meet with an MSP, she didn't hesitate.
A few months ago, Ashleigh, the Policy and Campaigns Manager in Scotland, asked me if I’d like to come along and meet with politicians to help raise awareness of breast cancer.
To be honest I felt a bit sceptical about how genuinely interested they would be. Surely they must be bombarded with stories from the public all the time? Why would they possibly be interested in my story? And would they remember me within 5 minutes of the meeting when they move on to their next cause?
However, I’m one that never hesitates to push on an open door and was curious to know if my perceptions were unfounded. I reminded myself that if you don’t ask the answer will always be no... so I had absolutely nothing to lose!
My first visit to the Scottish Parliament
My first meeting was with Annie Wells, MSP for Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Her office is a very informal space and her pin board reflects causes close to her heart. She was very down to earth and instantly put me at ease. There were no airs and graces and we got down to saying it as it is. We talked about the importance of early diagnosis and how to encourage women to attend screening appointments and waiting times in her constituency. And something that’s close to my heart: access to medicines.
Annie was kind enough to take the time to give Ashleigh and me a tour of the parliament and I presided over the debating chamber long enough to get my photo taken. I reckon I could body double for the First Minister with my recently dyed red hair... well, from a distance maybe?
Annie shook my hand and thanked me for sharing my story with her, adding that I’d been an inspiration to her. I hear this a lot from people so I asked her what I’d inspired her to do... she looked a little surprised but promised to follow up on our discussion.
Becoming a regular in Scottish Parliament
Since my meeting back in January with Annie Wells at the Scottish Parliament, I’ve kind of got the bug for meeting with any Member of the Scottish Parliament that will listen to me. Thankfully having Ashleigh from BCN in tow helps keep me on the straight and narrow. Ashleigh helps give the meetings a focus and uses the opportunity to share some information on how their individual constituency is performing in line with crucial NHS breast cancer measures.
Miles Briggs MSP was especially passionate to hear about my story and openly shared his own personal experiences with me. We hijacked Ashleigh’s agenda for a fair part of the hour as we shared stories about breast cancer and I’m hoping that building a relationship with someone as influential as Miles will help issues like access to medicines and clinical trials stay on the Scottish Parliament’s agenda.
We also met with Lewis Macdonald MSP, the Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sports Labour Committee, along with other politicians who sit on the Committee. We had the opportunity to remind the attendees about following up on the Montgomery Review recommendations. It’s exciting to hear their commitment to continue to close these actions down.
Looking to the future
There’s talk of establishing a cross-party roundtable to look at secondary breast cancer with representation from Make 2nds Count. Joining forces is something I’m very excited about and getting support to help with our specific challenges such as accessing trials, patient databases and increasing funding.
I’m encouraged with the positive reception I’ve had from all the politicians I’ve met so far. They’re really not such a scary bunch and I remind myself that they’re there to hear from people like me!
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