Dear Colorectal Cancer Advocates,
I want to take a minute and talk about a hidden truth of advocacy. This truth can come out throughout the year, however, there appears to be an increase in it especially in March, aka colorectal cancer (CRC) awareness month.
So, what is it? It’s called “advocacy shame”. This might be an actual technical term or it might be something I just coined, either way, we are going with it!
What is advocacy shame? Well, first we have to break down shame. Guilt is feeling bad for actions we did or didn’t do. Shame is feeling like a bad, terrible, awful person because of actions we did or didn’t do. Guilt- feeling bad. Shame- I am a bad person now. Advocacy work is defined as public support for a particular cause or policy.
Therefore, “Advocacy Shame” is feeling like you’re an awful person for not being the best advocate for colorectal cancer awareness. In my experience as an advocate, I have had lots of conversations with other CRC advocates. These conversations appear to have a pattern within different stages of advocacy engagement. A new advocate is 100% IN! These advocates give ALL they possibly can for the cause. They can even feel a little annoying (yikes, I said it!) to us elder advocates (yup…I said that too). However, our cause needs these different levels of involvement, enthusiasm and dedication to get the word out on the street. So what’s the deal with advocates getting annoyed or feeling “bad” about being the best advocate they can be?!
It’s simple…advocate guilt or shame. The truth is we were all green advocates who had time, energy and all the passion in the world to give back at one point, but then life happens! We have a recurrence, we get a new job, we recover, we start a family, we maybe even burn out from all the advocacy work we were doing. We might need a mental health break from the cancer world, our children need us or our priorities in life shift. When you are living with, surviving, caregiving or widowed by colorectal cancer there is this strange thing that happens - life outside of colorectal cancer advocacy work continues on. This public service announcement in this is THAT IS OKAY!!!!
If the amount of hours, conferences attended, money raised has decreased within your advocacy work over time, it does not mean you are a terrible, rotten person who does not care about colorectal cancer anymore! It simply means something has shifted for you in your world. There is no need for guilt, shame or feeling downright awful for your decrease in involvement! It might mean you are stepping aside or back to allow space for another patient, survivor or caregiver to share their experience with colorectal cancer and tap into their networks to help increase colorectal cancer awareness, screening, research, donations and legislation. By no means does shifting how you advocate for a cause near and dear to you mean that what you have done within our community is less than or subpar.
The truth is we have all carved the way to where we are now. Look how far we have all come as colorectal cancer advocates, think about ALL that you and our brother and sisters have done for this cause! It is breathtaking to see what has even done collectively even within the last couple of years. Acknowledging our accomplishments is so important in this field!
Do we have more work to be done? Well that is a unanimous YES! We will come together and give what we can (without guilt and shame) to change the global awareness of colorectal cancer, increase screening rates, shift laws to increase research and improve access to care for all. This has never been, nor will it ever be a cause that resides solely on one individual advocate. It will take a continuous army of collective colorectal cancer advocates across race, gender, age, sexual orientation, class, region, nationality and ethnicity to come together to ensure our story is not the next generation’s story with colorectal cancer.
The next time you are feeling down on your advocacy work, or begin comparing yourself to someone who is in the flow, or become aware of your limitations around what you can give despite what you wish you could give, remember this. Advocacy work is a marathon not a sprint. Take that water break, stretch it out, rest and when you are ready to jump back in and grab a baton- our whole team will be here cheering you on! No one fights alone!