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Kingman cancer survivor joins push for research funding

Joleen Goss and her dog Dusty sit among some of the colorful Relay for Life T-shirts Goss has worn over the years for the annual event in Kingman. Goss was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001 and has been instrumental in organizing and promoting the local Relay for Life. She will be telling her story in September to a congressional committee in Washington, D.C.

American Cancer Society seeks more research money

KINGMAN - Joleen Goss has the gift of gab.

Not just any gab, mind you. Goss, 60, is one of those people who can easily tell her inspiring story about surviving ovarian cancer to anyone, from a fearful woman hearing the dreaded pronouncement for the first time to an uninformed but interested elected official considering additional funding for research and services.

That gift is sending Goss to Washington, D.C. from Sept. 8-11 to tell her personal story to a congressional committee.

Goss has been asked by the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network to help lobby for more funding for cancer research and for equitable screening and treatment opportunities.

"I'm very excited and honored to be asked to go," said Goss, a switching systems technician for Frontier Communications. "I think that sharing our stories with elected officials makes a difference and that they listen. And we can't back off now. There is a cure for cancer out there.

"The American Cancer Society has made so many strides already, saving 400 lives a day, but there's still more to be done."

According to the American Cancer Society, it has played a part in every major cancer research breakthrough in the past 50 years. Those include the pap test, mammography, the first successful chemotherapy treatment for cancer, DNA research, the bone marrow transplant technique, hormone therapy, vaccines and drug treatments.

Robin Campbell, team captain for the Relay Wranglers, which includes Goss, said she is thrilled the American Cancer Society chose Goss to represent Arizona in Washington, D.C.

"I think it's great that someone local can go to D.C. and lobby for funds," said Campbell. "It furthers our hope and mission at the community level. Joleen is the kind of person who will go anywhere to talk to people about cancer. She gives out her phone number and talks to them any time they call. She will be an asset when she goes to Washington."

But for Goss, the real key to bending ears in the society's favor and reaching others is the personal stories.

Goss, who lived in Bisbee, Ariz., at the time, learned she had cancer in 2001 when she went to the doctor for an annual physical and a large mass was discovered on her right ovary. Despite a lack of symptoms, Goss had stage III cancer that required surgery and chemotherapy. After seven years, she was declared free of cancer.

All along the way, Goss has shared her personal story, even when it hurt. She has been asked to speak at cancer survivor dinners and events, which she said is difficult because of the emotions involved in talking about a disease that changed her life forever. Goss said she never hesitates to encourage others with her success or offer a phone number where they can reach her to share their concerns.

"As a cancer survivor, you don't think your story is that important," said Goss. "But it's amazing when people come up and say it has touched them. You just never know who your story will impact or how.

"When I was first diagnosed, I was eating breakfast out and a lady came up and said she had heard about me from a mutual friend and that I was her hero. She said she had followed my progress and was inspired by how I was handling my life."

In fact, Goss's story has been so inspirational that she was awarded the Great West Division Hero of Hope Award in 2009 by the American Cancer Society, which is given to cancer survivors who have helped others and the agency.

Goss, who moved to Kingman in 2003, helped start the local Relay for Life event in 2004 that has grown to become a major event.

This year, Relay for Life raised more than $80,000 for the American Cancer Society, with almost 50 teams participating. Goss, who is the event's advocacy chairperson, said more than 500 women, including 100 survivors, gathered June 1-2 at Kingman High School for the overnight meeting. There, they walked themed laps, conducted fundraisers and participated in a luminaria bag lighting ceremony.

Goss also has helped with Bark for Life, a canine-related fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that took place once a year from 2009 to 2012. It included education from trainers, groomers, veterinarians, chiropractors and kennel owners, as well as contests for best trick, costume and human-canine look-alike.

Goss said the event raised about $3,800 in 2012, and she hopes it will resume in 2014.

"I don't do any of this for me," said Goss, who spoke before the Arizona Legislature in March about her cancer experience and the need for more funding. "I do it for those who can't. I know there is an answer out there for getting rid of cancer. It's not a death sentence anymore.

"We're trying to create a world where people don't have to hear the words 'You have cancer' anymore."

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