By Anastasia Marchese
Ide Mills of Millburn is uniquely situated to get the message out about cancer awareness, prevention and patient rights.
Mills’ background is as an oncology social worker in the Bronx, who continued in that line of work at Sloan-Kettering and then in other places to work with children battling cancer and to counsel their families. Mills then became a Health Educator and worked with pharmaceutical companies to develop education programs for patients dealing with all types of diseases to help them understand the nature of their disease, the treatment options, the possible side effects of the available medications and treatment.
This is an occupation Mills continues to do even though her avocation as a patient advocate is taking an increasing amount of time.
To add to Mills’ extensive professional credentials, comes the impact of personal experience. Five and a half years ago Mills was diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer. Most people assume that if someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, then they must have been a smoker. As most assumptions are, this is so untrue.
Mills was never a smoker and that is one reason why it wasn’t diagnosed until the later stages of the disease. If there are no obvious risk factors, than no screening is done. All one needs to do to get lung cancer, according to Mills, is to have lungs.
Mills has participated in clinical trials since her diagnosis. Only three drugs have been approved for the rarer type of non-small cell cancer that Mills has, but do to participation in these clinical trials Mills has been able to work through her treatments, while increasing her patient advocacy work.
Currently 59 years of age, Mills says, “I feel incredibly well. It is the best I’ve felt on medication.”
Mills follows and works closely with a number of advocacy groups and went to participate in the discussion held by the president’s Cancer panel held in NYC in the beginning of June. It was a public meeting dealing with problems relating to access to cancer medications and costs.
“Patient Power” is a patient advocacy group that deals with all types of cancer and helps educate those dealing with them. Andrew Schorr, president of the organization, put out a call for ideas of what patients thought should be addressed at the meeting, since he was attending. Mills then decided that she would attend the meeting. It was through attending that meeting that Mills received not only one but two invitations to attend the Moonshot event.
“When I first heard about it I said ‘I want to be there,’” recalled Mills. “I had met the Chief of Staff at Cory Booker’s office. They were very sweet and wrote a letter to the White House on my behalf.” Although that avenue did not bear fruit, other channels in turn lead Mills to this landmark conference.
The Moonshot conference was an initiative spearheaded by Vice President Biden.
It was held on June 28, 2016. Biden lost his son last year in an untimely death due to brain cancer. Joseph “Beau” Biden was only 46 years old.
In a press release put out by the White House leading up to the Moonshot event, it was laid out as the first event of its kind. The Cancer Moonshot was held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., but more than 270 communities across the United States held local summits and/or participated remotely. More than “350 researchers, oncologists and other care providers, data and technology experts, patients, families, and patient advocates” attended the event and more than 6,000 others participated in the events in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
“This is the first time a group this expansive and diverse will meet under a government charge is to double the rate of progress in our understanding, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care of cancer,” as stated in a White House press release.
Mills was inspired and encouraged by Vice President Biden’s speech the day of the event. It was also incredibly impacting to be part of these teams of people from all different aspects of the cancer arena who were working together to bring more treatments and better cooperation between scientists, pharmaceutical companies, patients, patient advocacy groups, cancer societies, and medical professionals to move forward in the race against time that is the battle against cancer.