Michelle Esser
Photo and text used with permission of Michelle Esser

Eleven years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I was a practicing attorney with two young children. I had no family history of the disease so the diagnosis came as quite a shock! After multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, I completed treatment, but I didn't feel the same as before. I was angry for what I and my family went through and frustrated about what felt like the loss of a year of my life and of my kids’. I was looking for a way to channel that anger and make life better for others who were facing, or might possibly face, a breast cancer diagnosis. Luckily, about a year after diagnosis, I attended the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) Advocate Leadership Summit, where as part of the conference I lobbied on Capitol Hill for breast cancer research. It was an empowering moment and made me realize that research and financial support for research was an area on which I wanted to focus.

I am involved with the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation, NBCC and Young Survival Coalition. I feel proud of the advocacy work that all three organizations perform. At my first NBCC Conference, I met the ladies of the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation. They mentored me in finding advocacy opportunities and I participated in their events. I am also active with NBCC, serving as a Team Leader for Pennsylvania. I volunteered with the Young Survival Coalition for several years and now am part of its staff, working as the Senior Program Manager for Research and Advocacy.

I first learned about the DoD BCRP from Mel Delapine, an amazing woman and breast cancer survivor and advocate who worked for Linda Creed and served as a DoD consumer reviewer. She really took me under her wing and showed me the opportunities available for advocates and also ensured that I received the appropriate training to be an effective advocate. Through her support and recommendation, I attended Project LEAD and served as a DoD consumer reviewer. Mel passed away from cancer a couple of years ago and I miss her, but I am so grateful for the support and guidance she provided me.

My experience serving as a consumer reviewer for the BCRP has been amazing! It is definitely hard work to review the grants and try to understand the work that the researcher is proposing to perform, but it gives me hope that so many smart and dedicated scientists and physicians are working to find a cure or ways to make treatments more effective and less toxic. When the entire panel meets in-person it is energizing. The enthusiasm and commitment of all participants, both scientists and advocates alike, is tangible. As a consumer, I loved sitting side by side with the scientists to discuss the proposals. My opinions and viewpoints were taken seriously and it was great to give back by providing the consumer perspective.

The DoD BCRP is a unique entity. It encourages researchers to dream big and think "outside of the box" to find ways to reduce death from breast cancer. Some of the best weapons in our arsenal today, such as Herceptin®, came out of research funded by the BCRP. We are looking for new concepts, tactics and research that could make a significant impact in breast cancer and a difference to patients.

Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022