by Mary DeLucco
When the position of program associate at Breast Cancer Action opened up last February, Allison Young applied because, she says, “I liked the fact that BCA worked on women’s health issues from a feminist perspective.”
She also liked the fact that the job called for her to handle the majority of the calls and emails BCA regularly receives from people looking for health care referrals or advice on where to find answers to their medical questions.
“I see my job as trying to provide women with the information they need to empower them to make fully informed decisions,” she says.
Allison has been providing information since she was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she majored in family studies. She volunteered as a reproductive health coordinator, counseling students on contraception and disease risk reduction.
After graduating, she spent two years in Armenia with the Peace Corps as a community health education volunteer, teaching health and English to Armenians of all ages–from elementary school to college.
She sees her work at BCA as a natural outgrowth of her college and Peace Corps work. She fields dozens of requests every week (BCA calls them “I&Rs”—information and referrals) from recently diagnosed women looking for information, women who have read a study and have questions, those who have been living with the disease for years and are wondering about different treatments, and friends and relatives of those living with breast cancer looking for support.
“My goal is to lessen their frustration just by listening to them,” she says, “and hopefully providing them with information that can point them in the right direction.”
Allison shares many of the same frustrations with the people who contact BCA. She questions why so little research is being done on the environmental links to breast cancer, why there isn’t more regulation of the chemicals that are in everyday household products, and why current treatments for breast cancer are so toxic.
But her biggest frustration rests with the fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without universal access to health care. She says working at BCA has raised her awareness of the issue, especially since she knows how astronomically expensive cancer drugs and treatment can be and how, even with insurance, many women find they simply cannot afford the health care they need.
Before she started at BCA, Allison had planned to go back to school for a master’s in public health. For now, that plan is on hold because she feels she’s getting a graduate education here.
“This job has changed my life and my lifestyle,” Allison says. “I never take my health for granted now.”