You don't have to be a scientist to get involved in research

lockersRemember the feeling of being a young freshman student walking the halls lined with senior lockers? Sweaty palms. Knocking knees. It was intimidating to be surrounded by upper classman.

As a cancer survivor, sometimes the research process can feel similar to the “good” ole’ days of high school. Especially if you don’t love chemistry.

But as Florence, a survivor and advocate can attest, if you give it a little time — research can be for ANYONE.

Although it may not come easy for you at first, when you slow down and take small steps, you too will begin to see that research isn’t always as complex or difficult as it may seem. And actually — once you gain your confidence and get involved, you’ll see there’s a long list of researchers who can’t wait to meet you and many ways that you — a non-scientist — can help.

How Florence got involved in the research process

Twelve years ago Florence received the diagnosis that didn’t only threaten her life, but determined her future. Colorectal cancer came her way in 2001, and over the past decade she’s also lost her husband and brother to cancer. Searching for answers and an understanding of the disease, she started looking into the “how” and “why” of cancer and research. It was then she realized that as a survivor, she could help.

“I started looking into how I personally could help.  The answer was research and advocacy for patients and survivors.”


As Florence dug for resources, she came across Fight Colorectal Cancer and became an advocate at the Call-on Congress. Taking her advocacy one-step further, she joined the RATS. group to participate in research advocacy with Fight Colorectal Cancer and has continued to be a voice for funding and awareness on the Hill.

Craving to do More

With a mission to cure cancer and the conviction that it must be done through research and new technology, Florence has gotten involved in research panels and become a patient voice in the research communities. Spreading the word of cancer research is just the beginning. Since she’s gotten her feet wet, her goals and involvement have snowballed.

“Although I am not a “scientist” (and sometimes walk away overwhelmed with new terminology or little understanding), the interactions of researchers only make me crave more.  I am intending on volunteering to review research papers and write some magazine articles on survivorship, advocacy and research.  I have an even stronger commitment to fight for funding where necessary to eradicate this disease. I want to learn more about microbiology, genetics, biomarkers and data on research to help explain to the patient, survivor or caregiver the things I have learned in language that the typical person understands.”

Our Help is Needed

This past May, Florence received a scholarship to attend the Focus on Research program hosted by the Research Advocacy Network’s Advocate Institute. The culmination of the program (after webinars, homework and sharing findings) included a trip to the annual ASCO conference as a program scholar. At ASCO, Florence learned about the latest advancements and treatment for colorectal cancer. She met other survivors and scientists from all over the world. She shook hands with researchers and met other patient advocates from other cancer groups. And ultimately, she got an even deeper understanding of the need for patient advocates.

“I found that as advocates, we are highly respected in the field because companies, organizations, the CDC, the NIH, etc., need our input and help from a survivor’s point of view.  The patients need our help!”

You can be like Florence!

Florence attended ASCO this year not as a researcher, scientist or doctor. But instead, she went as a patient. And through her experience, she realized that the entire research community was thankful she attended. In fact at one point she said,

As I looked back at my notes and the sessions I attended, I realized I was getting better at making sense of the terminology.  It wasn’t so scary after all!


Just like high schoolers who enter as timid freshmen become comfortable upper classmen in a matter of years, patients interested in research advocacy experience the same thing.

If you’re like Florence and have a passion to find a cure for colorectal cancer, we have ways for you to dive in and get involved.

To learn more, read about our Call-on Congress event and research training. Then, sign up to stay updated on opportunities!