The Cancer Action Network’s Robin Renault
09/25/2017 11:00AM ● Published by Claudia Mosby
By Claudia Mosby
Photos by Jeannine Hendrickson
WHEN ROBIN RENAULT began volunteering for the American Cancer Society’s Redding Relay for Life in 2014, she had no idea that her response to a friend’s request for help with the local event would lead her into volunteer cancer advocacy work in Washington, D.C.
“I knew nothing about the American Cancer Society,” says Renault, “but I felt since I was volunteering, I should learn more about it.”
In her research, she discovered the society’s Cancer Action Network and says she felt led to move in that direction, perhaps in part due to her intimate family experience with the disease.
“My sister has a horrific story,” say Renault. “Her twin daughters, Rebekah and Rachel, both had cancer. Rebekah, diagnosed at age 1 1/2, passed in July 2007. Rachel, who turned 13 this year and who was diagnosed at age 6, has been in remission since 2012.”
The Cancer Action Network, which is the American Cancer Society’s non-partisan advocacy arm, lobbies Congress to make cancer prevention and early detection, research funding, access to care, tobacco regulation and quality of life for cancer patients national priorities.
After Renault shared her family’s story at a Relay meeting, one of her team members contacted someone in Sacramento, suggesting Renault would be perfect for the open Ambassador Constituent Team Lead position for the California Congressional District 1.
“They invited me to the State Capitol Lobby Day in April 2015,” says Renault. “I think they wanted me to know what I would be getting myself into.” There she told her story to Assemblyman Brian Dahle and Senator Ted Gaines, and educated them on a couple of cancer-related bills, encouraging their vote for passage.
“I immediately spoke with the Cancer Action Network contact in Sacramento and said, ‘Sign me up. I’m ready to be the official District 1 lead.’ I felt like I had made a difference.”
In September, she was invited to Washington, D.C. to do it all over again with the Congressional representatives for District 1, where she advocated for a bill on palliative care for serious illness.
“Our whole mission is to put a face to the bill,” says Renault, “so that when it comes up for a vote, it becomes personal to elected officials. We want our representatives to realize their votes affect the lives of their constituents.”
Renault says her niece Rebekah received ‘everyday care’ adding, “She was poked and prodded; medical staff forgot she was a baby. It would take weeks for the results to get from one doctor to another and cancer doesn’t stop growing.”
Rebekah’s twin Rachel, however, had a very different experience. “While researching, I discovered the term palliative care and realized that was what Rachel was receiving. She had a team of doctors caring for her every need. My sister had a point of contact for any detail. Rebekah didn’t have that access.”
Renault believes the 2015 palliative care bill win was only a beginning. “Palliative care is not just for hospice,” says Renault, “but also for patients at the start of diagnosis forward.” It can make a significant difference in patient outcomes.
“If not for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the availability of palliative care in the broader medical arena would not be where it is today,” says Renault, whose niece Rachel, although given a seven-year chemotherapy plan, went into remission within a year. “Her care was phenomenal.”
In addition to the annual state and national lobby days, Renault visits local and neighboring district representatives in their offices, makes phone calls, circulates petitions and attends Relay for Life meetings.
The biggest fundraiser, held annually on Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., takes the form of the largest luminaria display in the United States. “Last year we had at least 25,000 luminaria, 15 rows deep,” says Renault. Each $10 luminaria bag in memory or honor of a loved one comes with a membership to the Cancer Action Network.
“I feel this is what I’m supposed to do,” she says. “I used to work at the courthouse and I love the law. It’s like it all came together, full circle.”