I Took My Story to Congress, and So Can You

by Danielle Leach, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy, St. Baldrick's Foundation
May 4, 2015

Danielle Leach, our Director of Government Relations and Advocacy, received an exciting invitation last month — she was asked to speak to the House Appropriations Committee. Step into her shoes as she recounts her experience testifying to Congress about childhood cancer and the need for research funding.

Danielle Leach testifies to Congress about childhood cancer.

Danielle testifies to Congress about childhood cancer.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee, which decides how much money the federal government spends each year, invited me to testify about the importance of funding for childhood cancer.

At first I was absolutely thrilled. I was being given the incredible opportunity to represent all those mothers and families and kids who had faced childhood cancer.

Then I was terrified. Testifying before Congress was a huge responsibility. How do you prepare for such a thing?

I knew I wanted to tell Congress the story of my sister, Noel, who had been diagnosed 35 years ago with aggressive rhabdomyosarcoma. Luckily, she qualified for a clinical trial and is still with us.

Danielle Leach testifies to Congress about her sister.

Danielle talks about her sister, Noel, during her congressional testimony.

I knew I also had to tell Congress about my son Mason, who in 2006 was diagnosed with a brain tumor — medulloblastoma. He wasn’t so lucky. He died on October 13, 2007.

And I knew I had a total of five minutes to make sure they understood why funding for childhood cancer research had to be a top priority for Congress.

Learn more about childhood cancer funding >

Danielle Leach testifies to Congress about her son.

Danielle tells Congress about her son Mason.

My day came on Wednesday, April 29. I got up early, put on my best green suit and made my way to the Rayburn House Office Building. I was the third witness to speak.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t nervous, but for five minutes, I told my story. I held up pictures of my sister and then my son. The testimony went by in a blur. When I was done, my heart was pounding.

But had I made a difference? Did anyone actually listen?

The room was silent.

Then Congressman Tom Cole, the Republican Chairman of the subcommittee, slowly started to speak.

He told me that the budget was very tight this year and that it was going to be very hard to find new money for any program. But then he said that hearing my story reminded him why we had to fight to make medical research a top priority.

Speak Up for Kids' Cancer
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat of the committee, smiled warmly and thanked me very much for having the courage to bring my story to Congress. She said it was so very important to allow Congress to hear these stories. She personally committed to me that she would make medical research funding a top priority this year.

My testimony was done. But I was invigorated. I wanted to do more. I wanted to make sure every single member of Congress understood how vital it is to put more money into research for childhood cancer.

Danielle and Congressman Tom Cole

Danielle with Congressman Tom Cole.

I know it is heartwrenching to have to tell your personal story of how childhood cancer affected your family. But also I know the only way we will get the money we need is to take our stories to Capitol Hill.

I did it. And so can you.

On June 15 and 16, St. Baldrick’s is joining with the Alliance for Childhood Cancer to host Action Days. People from across the nation are coming to Washington, D.C., where we are setting up meetings with Members of Congress.

We need you.

You don’t need any special training or expertise. You just have to be willing to tell your story.

Make a real impact by telling your story. Join us in D.C. for Childhood Cancer Action Days.

Register for Action Days

Keep the momentum of Danielle’s testimony going. Tweet your bald selfie to Congress and let them know you support kids’ cancer research.

Tweet Congress

Read more about advocacy on the St. Baldrick’s blog: