Cancer Policy & Advocacy Team (CPAT)

2023 Virtual Symposium

View recordings of our essions on health care policy, health equity, community survivorship programs, career networking, and finding hope in survivorship. Watch Now.

The Virtual CPAT Symposium is an opportunity to network with other advocates, develop advocacy skills, and learn about cancer policy issues in the comfort of your own home. The 2023 Virtual Symposium showcased topics such as advocating for health care policy that impacts cancer patients, addressing survivorship and health equity needs in your local cancer community, and improving your career networking skills after a cancer diagnosis.

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Health Policy Outlook 2023

  • Debra Curtis | McDermott+ Consulting
  • Shelley Fuld Nasso, MPP | NCCS CEO

Health policy expert Debra Curtis joins NCCS CEO Shelley Fuld Nasso for a “fireside chat” to discuss the most recent developments in Congress and health policy in Washington, and what we can expect to see in the near future.

Topics discussed include the current budget dispute in Congress, the introduction of the Comprehensive Cancer Survivorship Act (CCSA), and the implementation of drug price negotiation in Medicare.

Elevate Survivorship: Implementing Health Equity in the Community

2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassadors:

  • Jala Lockhart, PhD | Tuscaloosa, AL
  • Arti Varanasi, PhD | Clarksburg, MD
  • Roxanne Berger, LPN | Lindenwold, NJ
  • Nicole Drost | Fairport, NY

Elevate Ambassadors from the 2022 cohort share a definition of health equity used in health care settings and how they used this lens when implementing local survivorship projects. They discuss best practices in creating health equity and the challenges that they encountered when implementing their work.

Download Session Slides (PDF)

Elevate Survivorship: Exploring Community Survivorship Programs

2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassadors:

  • Alyssa Fischer-Reeder | Pinehurst, NC
  • Daria Ross | Flint Township, MI
  • Natalie Stevenson | Sparks, NV
  • Shelley Fuld Nasso, MPP | NCCS CEO (Moderator)

Elevate Ambassadors from the 2022 cohort share the aspects of survivorship that were needed in their local communities and how that informed their projects. They discuss the lessons learned from the process and the challenges they continue to face to meet the needs of their communities.

Keynote: Finding the Hope in Cancer Survivorship

Richard L. Deming, MD
Medical Director, MercyOne Cancer Center – Des Moines, IA

This is not your usual presentation by an oncologist. “To be a cancer doctor is more than just killing cancer cells,” says Dr. Deming at the start of his talk before reciting the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. In this presentation, Dr. Deming tells the stories of some of his patients, detailing both their healing journeys and their literal journey together to Mount Everest. He also shares how these experiences have affected him as a physician and influenced his work at the MercyOne Cancer Center.

The Art of Career Networking

Sidney Kushner
Executive Director/Founder, Connecting Champions

Networking is one of the most important skills aspiring young professionals can hone when preparing for their careers. When done effectively, it can lead to jobs, internships, and mentors.

But where do we start?

In this workshop, Connecting Champions will touch on discovering career paths, identifying professionals with which to network, using tools to connect with those people (such as LinkedIn), knowing what to ask, and activating your network. Sample blurbs and step-by-step instructions will be provided.

Download Session Slides (PDF)

Speaker Bios

Roxanne Berger2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Lindenwold, NJ

Roxanne Berger, LPN is the Clinical Nurse Coordinator for the Wellness After Cancer Survivorship Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper in Camden, New Jersey. In her role as coordinator, she has helped develop a variety of programs to address survivors’ needs including a fitness and nutrition eight-week training program and a virtual monthly educational series.

Roxanne’s passion and dedication to cancer survivors comes from a deep desire to help them live their lives as best as possible. Watching her cousin struggle to navigate the system after having two cancer diagnoses was very troubling to Roxanne. Out of this concern grew the concept of HATS OFF: Healthcare Advocacy Throughout Survivorship, Ongoing Focused Follow-up; a faith-based program that focuses on regular consistent follow up care after completing active surveillance and transitioning to long term survivorship care. The focus is on physical and psychosocial educational programs at local churches, mosques and synagogues targeting men and women of color. Follow up care and appropriate cancer screening tests are vital to survivors’ wellness. Roxanne’s overall goal is for all cancer survivors to have access to equitable care, culturally competent education and awareness of the importance of living well throughout their survivorship journey.

Debra CurtisMcDermott+ Consulting

Debra Curtis is a highly respected health policy authority who helps clients advance their missions in Congress and beyond. With more than three decades of experience working both on the Hill and with the health insurance exchange marketplace, she helps clients execute payment strategy, see around the corner on policy and regulatory changes, and pursue effective advocacy. In addition, Debbie has deep experience working closely with payers, industry stakeholders and government officials at the federal, state and local levels.

During her 24 years as a Congressional Staffer, Debbie served most recently in a joint position as Chief of Staff to US Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), and as a professional staff member on the US House of Representatives Committee on Ways & Means, Health Subcommittee. Debbie was integrally involved in the creation and movement of health legislation through the committee, with a focus on improving and protecting Medicare. She was a key staffer in the development of the Affordable Care Act, and worked closely with the Administration and other Congressional committees and Leadership on the implementation of the law.

Debbie joins McDermottPlus from the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, where she was part of the founding team that established and operated DC Health Link, the District of Columbia’s online state-based health insurance exchange marketplace. In that capacity, she worked closely with stakeholders, advocates and government officials at the local and federal levels and led the Authority’s interactions with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Richard L. Deming, MDMedical Director
MercyOne Cancer Center, Des Moines, IA

Richard L. Deming, MD is Medical Director of MercyOne Cancer Center in Des Moines, Iowa. He received a bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State University and his medical degree from Creighton University. Dr. Deming is known in the community for the compassionate care he provides cancer patients and their families. He is involved in many national, state, and community organizations and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was awarded the Lane Adams Award by the American Cancer Society for excellence and compassion in patient care. He is the recipient of “the one hundred” Award by Massachusetts General Hospital for his work with cancer survivors. He was awarded the Iowa Cancer Champion Award for his tireless efforts in the field of advocacy. He received the Iowa Star Award from the Des Moines Register for making a measurable difference within the community and improving the quality of life for Iowans everywhere. He was awarded the St. George National Medal by the American Cancer Society for leadership in reducing the burden of cancer.

Dr. Deming is also the founder of Above + Beyond Cancer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating the lives of those touched by cancer. Dr. Deming has led cancer survivors on medical missions and inspirational mind-body-spirit pilgrimages to Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Machu Picchu. He is inspired by the courage and compassion of his patients and their families. His greatest ambition is to encourage others to pursue lives of meaning, purpose, passion, and compassion.

Nicole Drost2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Fairport, NY

A month before Nicole Drost turned 40, her world was flipped upside down when was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer. With aggressive treatment and brachytherapy, she is happy to say she is currently 3 and a half years cancer free. While going through her cancer journey, she realized she wanted to help other young women like her. She is thrilled to be a 2022 Elevate Ambassador.

Her hope is to inform others on the importance of women’s health care and educate others that gynecological cancers do not just happen to women over the age of 55. Nicole is a wife, mom of three kids ages 12, 11, and 8, a dog mom, and a prevention educator. When she has spare time, she loves to hang out with her family, read, and hike.

Alyssa Fischer Reeder2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Alexandria, VA

Alyssa Fischer-Reeder graduated from American University, in Washington, DC, with a BA in Education and Communication. That same year, she was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer and had more than half of her tongue removed. She underwent congruent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six months. Following treatment, she obtained her Master’s Degree in Communications and wrote her thesis on “The Power of Hope.” She graduated with Honors in 2006.

In 2013, she joined Dr. Jatin P. Shah and actor Michael Douglas on a radio tour to increase awareness about Oral Head and Neck Cancers which was nominated for a SABER award. In 2019, she founded The HNC Fund (Head Neck Cancer Fund).

In 2020, she became a featured blogger for Cancer Be Glammed, raising awareness for Head and Neck Cancer. Dr. Peter Cordeior nominated Alyssa for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons Patient of Courage Award for 2020; Alyssa won the distinguished title. In 2020, she became a Head Neck Cancer Alliance Ambassador dedicated to educating the community at large about HNC. She was asked to join the Advisory Board for Courage Unmasked 9114HNC Fund.

In October of 2020, Alyssa underwent an emergent Mandibulectomy Fibula Free Flap Jawbone Replacement surgery. In 2022, Alyssa became a Cancer Hope Network Support Volunteer and Elevate Ambassador for National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. She is happily married and has two phenomenal children.

Sidney KushnerExecutive Director and Founder
Connecting Champions

Sidney Kushner grew up in Pittsburgh and founded Connecting Champions as a 19-year-old in memory of his friend Lauren. He graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics from Brown University and was named a top 100 student entrepreneur in the nation by Stanford University. In 2021, he gave a TED talk: “How one question can forever change the life of a child with cancer.” He has been honored in Pittsburgh’s inaugural class of 30 Under 30, featured in Harvard Business Review and Forbes, and highlighted as a guest writer in Pittsburgh Magazine. He also enjoys building specialized Outcomes Reporting software and Donor Databases for nonprofits in Pittsburgh.

Jala Lockhart, PhD2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Tuscaloosa, AL

Jala Lockhart, PhD, MPH, CHES, DTR, is originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia but has completed all her degrees at The University of Alabama. She has a B.S. in dietetics with a minor in biology, a Master’s of Public Health, and is currently completing her doctorate in health education and promotion from the capstone.

Jala’s research experience includes working on multiple projects with grant funding from the American Cancer Society, Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Rockefeller Foundation. Jala has also worked for non-profit organizations and federally qualified health centers (FQHC’s) as a practitioner in community health education with a focus on nutrition. She also enjoys volunteering at her local cancer center, where she helps with projects related to operations.

Jala’s research interests include cancer survivorship/education, integrative medicine, and health disparities. It is her hope to one day help cancer centers implement programming and conduct operations that are culturally sensitive and tailored to minoritized survivors to improve their quality of life. Jala is not only a scholar of cancer research, but also an advocate due to a family history of cancer diagnosis. Losing those close to her due to prostate, colorectal cancer, and having a mother who was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL) in 2020, fuel her passion to enter the world of survivorship care.

Shelley Fuld NassoShelley Fuld Nasso, MPP has served as Chief Executive Officer of NCCS since October 2013. Prior to joining NCCS, Shelley served in leadership roles at Susan G. Komen, where she leveraged Komen’s grassroots network in Washington, DC, and in state capitals. Under her leadership, Komen successfully secured $80 million in state funding for cancer screening and treatment for uninsured and under-insured women.

Shelley has also served as Director of Community Philanthropy at The Dallas Foundation and held management positions at communications and technology enterprises. She is a graduate of Rice University and holds a Master of Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Shelley’s commitment to the work of NCCS is strongly tied to the experiences in the cancer care system of her dear friend, Dr. Brent Whitworth, a beloved physician who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer days before his 42nd birthday and who passed away 19 months later. Through Brent’s experiences, Shelley witnessed the strengths and flaws of the cancer care system and embraces the notion that policy change can make cancer care better for patients and caregivers.

Shelley and her husband Michael live in Maryland and are the parents of three young boys.

Daria Ross2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Flint Township, MI

Daria Ross is passionate about educating her community and positively impacting others through her breast cancer experience. She believes building strong coalitions and understanding community needs can create real, positive change and strengthen survivorship.

She was diagnosed in 2018 with Stage 2, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Her perspective and life focus were forever changed. After a bilateral mastectomy, 15 rounds of chemo, and 30 rounds of radiation, she is cancer-free. Now thriving at the surveillance point, her daily affirmation is #faithoverfear.

Daria is keenly focused on advocacy, reducing health care disparities, and increasing survivorship. Her primary interests include non-profit leadership, grant development, and policy to create meaningful initiatives that support the most vulnerable populations and underserved women and provide resources for survivors, families, and caregivers.

Natalie Stevenson2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Sparks, NV

Natalie Stevenson is a co-founder of Cancer Community Clubhouse and a metastatic breast cancer survivor. With over 17 years of experience working with real estate investors and a leading financial security company as an investment & retirement specialist, Natalie is returning to her roots in human services.

Natalie holds a bachelor’s degree in human and family services, serves on the Nevada Cancer Coalition’s Survivorship Task Force, and is a Metavivor Peer-to-Peer program leader.

Originally diagnosed as a young, single mother, Natalie especially values and enjoys spending time with her son, practicing mindfulness techniques including meditation, yoga & QiGong, and she escapes to the natural retreats the region has to offer—especially Lake Tahoe!

As a survivor, she is committed to helping others find a renewed sense of happiness despite going through cancer as a life event. Above all, she aims to create a space for connection so others do not have to go through the journey alone. Read Natalie’s Survivor Story here.

Arti Varanasi2022 NCCS Elevate Ambassador
Clarksburg, MD

Dr. Arti Patel Varanasi is President and CEO of the social enterprise, Advancing Synergy, LLC and co-founder of the non-profit organization, Health Tech Alley. She has more than 25 years combined experience in cancer research, advocacy, capacity building, public health and project management ,and maintains close ties to the medical, public health and research community. Advancing Synergy served as the technology partner on a grant awarded to Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD from Susan G. Komen for the Cure® to provide virtual, personalized support to women undergoing breast cancer treatment through an innovative technology.

Arti is passionate about developing innovations that build stronger communities and enable all individuals to lead healthier and longer lives. Her focus has been on leveraging technology to address chronic disease and advance health equity. With the Health Tech Alley team, Arti works to fulfill its mission of improving health outcomes and equity and uplifting individuals and communities by enabling health technology solutions, workforce development, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Arti is a proud graduate of Leadership Howard County and an active member of the health, entrepreneurial, and technology communities in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. She currently serves as a Steering Committee Member of the Noncommunicable (NCD) Disease Roundtable, Chair of NCD Interest Group for the CORE Group, Co-Chair of the American Cancer Society National Navigation Roundtable Workforce Development Working Group, Chair of Maryland Innovation Center (MIC) Women in Technology-Central Maryland group, Co-Chair of the MIC Health Tech Innovators group, and Steering Committee Member of the Virginia-based Women in Technology group. From 2012-2016, Arti served on the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) appointed by then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.

Arti enjoys her role as an educator. She is a lecturer in the Master’s in Biotechnology Program at The Johns Hopkins University and recently co-developed a continuing education course in Health Information Technology Fundamentals for Howard Community College. As an advocate for improving the training of postdoctoral fellows, she was one of the founders of the National Postdoctoral Association in 2003. Arti was a fellow in the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program from 2001-2005 where her research interests focused on nutrition, immunity and cancer prevention. She received her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and MPH from the Johns Hopkins University. Her doctoral research focused on understanding the genetic and epigenetic alterations that contribute to the development of lung tumors.

Arti is also a graduate of the National Science Foundation funded ACTiVATE® program for women technology entrepreneurs. This award-winning program launched her journey into entrepreneurship and planted the seeds for Advancing Synergy and Health Tech Alley.