On October 10th, 2014, NWgirl wrote:
Julie - that would be so awesome if you and Pete and Kathy and her husband were all there! Let me try to explain what we do over the course of the few days we're there.
Day 1 - Registration/training. All the training this year is at the ASCO Building (American Society of Clinical Oncology) in Alexandria, VA - a suburb of Washington D.C. and very close to Regan Intl. Airport. The first day is training. "Training" covers a lot of different areas. What our "asks" are of Congress, how to participate in your meeting with your Senators/Representatives, a little about how Congress works, what it takes to get legislation passed, that sort of thing. We also generally have training sessions that talk about what's involved in "scientific research" - what the scientists do, how they get their funding, what the funding goes to. Sometimes we have a scientist talk about areas of research that they're working on as it pertains to CRC. We learn about different programs within the federal government that provide funding for research, awareness, education, etc. We sometimes have a legislator and/or a legislative aide come talk to us about how things work, how to be most effective, that sort of thing. So figure a day and a half go towards training. This year, for the first time, we're focusing the first hour plus on folks who are there for the first time - so we can cover some of the basics and try to gently introduce them to things - so they feel less overwhelmed.
Lunch the first day (this year) will be provided to those who want it in the form of a sack lunch. Training for everyone begins just around noon - or a little thereafter; but for newbie's it will start earlier - so lunch will be provided to those who want it. The first day we have dinner together and it's pretty informal - they sometimes have a presentation of some sort that evening; other times the leave it open so advocates can mingle and get to know each other. The second day of training lunch is also provided for everyone - a buffet this time and of course dinner again the second day. Now that I think about it, they may have dinner on your own for one of those nights so people can go where they want and hang out more informally.
There will be two hotels with special room rates this year - The Westin and The Residence Inn; both a short walk from ASCO. For those who want to hang out in the bar/lounge afterwards, there's always a lot of socializing going on there.
The third day - after our day and a half of training, we all meet in the hotel lobby for a bagged breakfast and then board a bus (not a school bus, but a nice luxury bus) to head to The Hill. At the Hill we all get together on the steps of the Capital for a group photo. Throughout the event there is a professional photographer taking pics, so don't be shy! After that, we break out by state and attend the meetings with our Senators and Representative. These meetings have been arranged for us in advance - we have a schedule of our meetings and a map of The Hill showing where each meeting is located. Frequently you end up meeting with a Legislative Aide - but that's not a bad thing! The Aides tend to have a lot more time to sit and talk with us and you will meet with an Aide that specializes in Healthcare; so don't think for a minute your time is being wasted. These folks know what they're doing - and they have the ear of our Legislators. We also have "drop off" packets for the Representatives in our respective State that we don't have scheduled meetings with. You can either just drop these off in their offices, or you can ask if there is someone there to talk to you - and you can have another meeting. This is at the advocates discretion based on how much time/energy they have. Lunch on The Hill is on your own - there are cafeteria's (with decent food) in all of the legislative buildings. After all your meetings are finished on The Hill, you take the Metro back to your hotel in Alexandria - take a quick rest - and get ready for the celebration dinner!
The celebration dinner is held at a location near to the hotels if possible - if not a shuttle is provided to/from the location. We have dinner, usually an open bar for beer/wine and a dance floor with music. Before the dancing gets started there is some sort of a presentation that covers some highlights from our time there together, a moment of silence for those we have lost, some awards given, that sort of thing. The rest of the evening is just a big, crazy celebration. Last year we had a photo booth with some silly "blue" props, which was fun.
I remember the first year I attended Call on Congress and walking into the training room after I had registered. Everyone was hugging and greeting each other. I thought "okay - kind of weird - but whatever". A few people asked if I'd attended before and reached out to me to introduce themselves. I knew virtually no one there except Gaelen, who I'd met on-line here at The Colon Club and had always wanted to meet. Well, by the end of our 3 days together, I felt like these folks were family. I literally cried at the end of the celebration dinner. It's an extremely emotional, powerful event to be a part of. Being surrounded by close to 100 other people who are going through what you have/are going through - that in itself bonds you together.
That said, it's not for everyone. I have met people who said "yeah, it was fun, but not something I'll do again" - so to each his own. For me, I love it. I can't really understand why someone in our shoes WOULDN'T love it - but again, to each his own.
I feel like this response is a little scattered and I know my words can't begin to do this event justice. The folks at Fight Colorectal Cancer really CARE about the advocates who attend this event. They WANT very much to do a good job - to educate people - but do it in a way that is interesting and fun and brings them together to fight for a common cause.
So Julie - if you have any questions I can help with or clarify - please let me know. I very much want to attend next March, but realistically, I have to see what happens with my health these next 6 months. I truly have no idea what shape I'll be in come March. I know Gaelen attended her last Call on Congress 3 months before she passed away. She wasn't doing the Congo Line with us on the dance floor that year, but she made it. I'd like to think I'll be able to do the same. I'd love to meet you and Pete.