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Support Group Helps Congressional Families

By Inga Beyer Roll Call Staff When Lisa McGovern’s college roommate was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer shortly after her mother died of lung cancer, the devastating news led her to a network of fellow Congressional spouses for support.

This network, the Alexandria, Va.-based Congressional Families Action for Cancer Awareness Program, provided her with information on early detection, cancer prevention and other educational materials.

“This group was there for me when I needed them and I hope that I can be there for other spouses when they need us,” said Lisa McGovern, wife of Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Now, as the executive director of the bipartisan program, McGovern is in the perfect position to do just that.

The Congressional Families program was founded in 1991 as a partnership between the Cancer Research Foundation of America and the Congressional Club, a bipartisan spouses group dedicated to advancing cancer prevention, early detection and education.

The very nature of the spouses’ position provides for a unique visibility in all areas of the country, allowing them to reinforce the program’s platforms in their respective districts, McGovern said.

“People come up to you and look for information all the time, like in grocery stores,” McGovern said. “So we provide [spouses] with information and they turn around and take it to their community. It’s a very grassroots organization.”

Since its inception, the program has grown from a one-person operation to a 110-member advisory board with a Congressional spouse in a permanent position.

“We consider this a very important group,” said Carolyn Aldigé, president and founder of the Cancer Research and Prevention Center, the program’s umbrella organization.

“When we hired a staff person, we wanted a Congressional spouse who would understand [the position]. That bumped it up another level,” she said.

The group’s activities range from giving presentations to civic and community groups, making radio and television presentations or public service announcements, organizing health fairs and conferences, and writing opinion/editorial pieces for local print press. Most importantly, though, they want people to know about the prospects of preventing certain cancers, such as skin cancer.

“When I was a kid my friends and I used to sit outside with records, all covered in foil and baby oil on our faces, and we thought that was OK,” she said, chuckling. “Motivating and advocating cancer awareness and early detection and to make them a part of every man and woman’s total health routine can really make a difference.”

McGovern said she hopes the growing size of the group will increase the prevention message throughout the country.

“Almost every spouse came up against cancer in one way or another, either through family or constituents, and by educating people and helping them live healthier and make different choices we can prevent this,” she said.

Indeed, her roommate’s fitness level and overall health ultimately saved her.

“She’s a true miracle.”

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