Ads are designed to grab your attention in order to alter your thinking, entice you to buy something, or, at least, force you to think about the object of the advertisement. Sometime early in the 1990s an ad aired that predicted an alarmingly high percentage of Americans who would be touched by cancer in that year. I distinctly remember responding in my mind to the ad with “not me.” A few weeks later the phone call no one wants to receive came from my father informing me that he had been diagnosed with the “C” word. The words of the ad resurfaced as I contemplated the road ahead and the decisions to be made. Because of modern medicine and the great care my father received at Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans, we enjoyed an additional three and one half years with my dad. The resources needed to make decisions were found, and we surrounded him with lots of love, laughter and our faith to endure the tough times.
Out of similar stories, the Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group of the Health Law Section was born. What we learned was that people who are confronted with the “C” word turn to their trusted family and friends who are attorneys for guidance on a myriad of topics that demand a response and a decision as a person faces the diagnosis and treatment plan that follows. Many times these lawyers are not trained in the areas of law demanded by such a diagnosis and have not handled the types of issues that arise, but, out of love and respect, they want to help their family member or friend navigate the waters ahead. “Listen” to the interview below with the Chair of the Interest Group, Janet Pulliam. You will be amazed at the work of this group and the resources that are readily available to Section members and beyond.
Joyce: “Tell us the story behind the birth of the Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group.”
Janet: “The story of the ABA Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group is the result of the resolve women members of this profession and something of which the entire Bar can be proud. At the 1993 ABA meeting, the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession presented a major program outlining the legal issues affecting breast cancer patients. That program ignited interest, excitement of opportunities for members of the Bar, and commitment to make a contribution. In 2000, the Commission expanded its efforts by launching an educational initiative. This initiative to develop an educational program on breast cancer advocacy was funded by a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Its purpose was, and continues to be, to present workshops to train attorneys to advocate for patients needing legal assistance from diagnosis through treatment. As the program grew, the Commission on Women partnered with the ABA Health Law Section in 2008 to institutionalize its efforts and to step aside. Originally a task force, the Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group proudly carries on the work of the ABA Commission on Women under the Direction of the Breast Cancer Initiatives Executive Committee.”
Joyce: “Do you have a mission statement?”
Janet: “Yes – To provide resources for breast and other cancer patients; to provide education and advocacy training to attorneys in the profession to carry out our goal; to partner with other organizations to broaden our reach.
One particular partnership deserves special mention — the Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC). The CRLC is a joint program of Loyola Law School and the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles, California.
Our partnership with the CRLC has been so strong that a CRLC attorney sits on our Board. The CRLC’s mission, like ours, is to provide materials, webinars and live programs as well as toll-free telephone assistance for questions. The CRLC staffs a professional panel of attorneys, insurance agents, and accountants with insurance expertise, employment, estate planning, government benefits, family law and consumer law. These volunteers give 30-minute consultations to patients.
Additionally, we have regularly partnered with law schools and medical schools. Of particular mention here is the partnership that has developed in Little Rock, Arkansas between the Bowen School of Law and the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Research Institute, part of the University of Arkansas Medical School. That partnership has presented two advocacy workshops with CLE credit, and has trained law students to participate in an onsite legal clinic with cancer patients and supervising attorneys that have been through the workshops.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Komen’s continued willingness to partner with us by providing food or contribution for programs.
Importantly, every program is a partnership with the medical community.”
Joyce: “What’s the value that the Interest Group brings to the members of the Health Law Section?”
Janet: “It gives the members an opportunity to work with some of the most fun and committed professionals I have ever had an opportunity to work with, putting our skills, talents, creativity and dedication to work. Because our educational mission is so broad, a member from any section of the ABA brings information and needed resources to better implement our mission. It also provides the members an opportunity to do and think of providing legal services as a real service and not a business. Everyone is welcome and needed.
Joyce: “Do you outreach beyond the Section? In what ways?”
Janet: “Membership is free! We provide informative webinars through the Health Law Section. Visit the Task Force’s website at: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/health_law/interest_groups/breast_cancer_task_force.html for a listing of free webinars and a link to the legal advocacy tool kit. The Breast Cancer Initiatives Executive Committee holds planning calls monthly and reaches out to the entire Interest Group to work on various initiatives.
The Interest Group has several workshops planned around the country this bar year: (1) Little Rock, AR this fall; (2) New Orleans in March; (3) Oklahoma City, Denver and Philadelphia in the Spring and Summer – stay tuned for exact dates. We also host a Fun Run in connection with the Section’s premier live conference, Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law, to benefit cancer research, which will be held this year March 9, 2017, in New Orleans, LA.”
Joyce: “How can members get involved in the mission of the Interest Group?”
Janet: “Any ABA member can join the Interest Group without cost. Any ABA member interested is welcome to participate in the planning of workshops, submit a topic and plan for a webinar, write an article, assist with drafting of materials and in updating our advocacy guide, speak at workshops or on a webinar, to mention just a few ways.
Please trust that this Interest Group is the most welcoming group I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Just call, email or come to our next workshop at the Health Law Section’s Emerging Issues Conference in New Orleans March 8, 2017.”
Joyce: “What is the most memorable event for you during your time with the Interest Group?”
Janet: “This is a tough one. It is impossible to forget the warm welcome I got the first time I attended a meeting in 2004. It was like, ‘We need you to help us do our work.’ Everyone is a working part of things and the cooperation is infectious. There is no competition or need on the part of anyone to get credit for anything! It is just special.
But, I would have to say that seeing Bowen law students providing legal advice to breast cancer patients under the supervision of attorneys trained in the Advocacy Workshops was heartwarming. If we can get the students involved and committed before they commit to the billable hour, the ABA Breast Cancer Interest Group will have no problem continuing its mission.”
Finally, I wanted you, the Section, to hear from your Chair-Elect, Hilary Young, who has been passionately involved in the Interest Group for years.
Joyce: “Hilary, I know you have a passion for this Interest Group. Tell us why this group means so much to you.”
Hilary: “There are a couple of key reasons.
First, through my late father. He was a hematologist who moved into oncology early on, before it was a recognized specialty. It fascinated him. He was gifted at listening, diagnosing, discussing terminal situations, and supporting patients to the end of their lives. I worked for him in his office for several summers in high school and met some of those patients. We discussed cancer and his work. I saw him personally and successfully battle colon and lung cancer, and he supported me when I went through treatment for breast cancer. He taught me a lot about people, life, and death, and I miss him every day.
Second, through my own experience with breast cancer. I was lucky in that I had great information, doctors, insurance, and tremendous support from my family, friends, colleagues and clients. I never doubted that I would beat the disease except for about 45 seconds on one beautiful late fall day. (I observed briefly that if my disease was fatal, I could be OK with that because I had lived a full and blessed life to that point. I then turned back to the job of eradicating the cancer.) But many patients are not so lucky, and they need help — they should not have to go through the stress of treatment while worrying about insurance, job, or the security of their families. My practice area does not give me a lot of personal expertise in family law, employee benefits, or insurance. But I can help provide education, information, perspective, and ways for lawyers with such expertise to support and guide cancer patients. That is what the BCIG is about, and we are constantly discussing ways to extend our reach and be more effective.”
C. Joyce Hall
Quote from a famous Mississippian: Oprah Winfrey hails from Kosciusko, MS. On the subject of choosing excellence she said: