Hannah Gaffney, president of the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, spent the first week of September lobbying for more cancer research. After hearing about a fellow sorority sister being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, Gaffney looked for fundraising options for her friend and stumbled upon the non-profit organization the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Gaffney volunteered for the organization as the southern regency advocate for college students in her friend’s honor. She had participated on a whim, unsure of what her intentions were or what was in store for her with this firm.
After enduring a panel interview and then an in-person interview with one of the directors, Gaffney was given the opportunity to work with the firm.
“The hardest thing for me was going to a different city where I had never been, going somewhere knowing nobody and then meeting with politicians," Gaffney said. "[Meeting with politicians] was so cool, but so scary at the same time, because they are these huge people who you see in the news all the time and then, all of a sudden, I’m in a room with them.”
The process of lobbying included meeting with people in the Arizona congress to request support for four bills.
Gaffney’s personal goal during the process was to meet with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Sen. Martha McSally and her Congressional District Rep. Greg Stanton and gain their support.
The FY Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies bill demanded increased funding for cancer research with the National Institute of Health.
The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act of 2019 was a bill that promoted more accessible screening and treatment for patients suffering from colon cancer and rectal cancer.
The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act promoted more training for doctors and caregivers so they could provide better treatment options and satisfaction of living conditions for people living with terminal disorders.
The last bill, the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act, or SAFE, promoted raising the age limit of tobacco intake to 21 years of age, banning flavored vapor juice and banning online sales of tobacco products.
“We found out even middle-schoolers were going into their parents’ wallets and stealing their drivers license to copy down their drivers license number in order to get the age verification for online sales for things like Juuls and vaping," Gaffney said. "It was insane.”
Gaffney said she has now acquired a love for politics and activism work since this experience. She now plans to dedicate her life to activism and politics instead of her original plan of becoming a child psychologist.
"When I went to D.C., I had no idea what I was doing," Gaffney said. "I had no interest in politics or law before that. [I realized] I love meeting with representatives. I love meeting with all of these politicians and having these nitty-gritty, difficult conversations with them, trying to get them to back something that I was passionate about.”
Gaffney encourages other people to get involved like she has and claimed that it was life changing for her.
“I saw it as an opportunity for growth," Gaffney said. "I’m always looking for something new and expand my horizons. For all I know, the experience I’m turning down could be the experience that changes my life. I never want to look back and say, ‘That’s something I should have done.’ I’d rather look back and say, ‘Yes, I did this thing.'"
Rachael Eerdmans is the associate director of membership engagement and program integration for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Eerdmans helped Gaffney through her lobbying process and planning the trip to Washington D.C.
“We appreciate Hannah taking time out of her schedule to travel to D.C. for this four-day event,” Eerdmans said in an email. “We know that is a lot to ask and her willingness shows her dedication to fighting cancer.”
Eerdmans also said that Hannah is one of the people that have inspired the non-profit to involve college students more in the lobbying process for the network.
With the experience lobbying for the nonprofit has given her, Gaffney plans to continue on and possibly achieve a paid position with the non-profit. Gaffney is now also interested in activism work for women’s rights and climate change.