Gay Crawford is Silicon Valley’s most renowned cancer advocate.
As a cancer survivor herself, Crawford knows how isolating one can feel when diagnosed with cancer. Before she began her cancer advocacy, Crawford was a journalist. She learned the basics of the trade working for newspapers around the East Bay, but Crawford felt she hadn’t found her calling until she landed a job doing community relations at Channel 11.
In this role, Crawford met with various community leaders to dig up important stories for the public interest, giving her the tools that have since defined her work to serve the community.
“It was an amazing job,” Crawford said. “I realized that at my other jobs, I was unhappy, because I wasn’t making a difference.”
But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31, her life changed. Crawford says the cancer didn’t define her as a person, but instead gave her a new perspective for how she can help a community in need. Crawford remembers receiving a booklet with advice for coping with breast cancer after she began treatment, giving her much-needed support at the time.
She line-edited a copy of the booklet and handed it back to the doctors.
Soon after, she received a call from the American Cancer Society, and was invited to redo the brochure. She joined Reach to Recovery, a program specifically centered around breast cancer patients, which she helped expand to more than a dozen hospitals. Crawford rose to the position of board chair at the American Cancer Society and worked on its national research council.
Her dedication to cancer advocacy hasn’t stopped since.
“You feel so helpless when you’re diagnosed,” Crawford said. “When you have a network, you can help people by connecting them together.”
Crawford founded Cancer CAREpoint in 2009. The organization acts as a support system for cancer patients and survivors, providing them counseling, assistance, education and other resources. Crawford still contributes to the organization, and collaborates frequently with its employees.
Crawford said the “ideal support system for cancer patients” includes many layers — financial, counseling, learning to navigate medical system, even survivorship.
“She works tirelessly,” said Dawn Hogh, interim executive director at Cancer CAREpoint. “When you’re diagnosed, it can be overwhelming with the amount of information you’re inundated with. She wants to help people as they navigate that process.”
Crawford is also involved with Courageous Kids, a donation drive that invites 600 young cancer patients to California’s Great America theme park for a picnic on Mother’s Day. Crawford had realized that there were no cancer advocacy groups for children, and collaborated with Great America to start Courageous Kids.
Nowadays, Crawford focuses most of her energy on advocating for survivors.
Cancer survivors can be isolated once they win the battle and have to readjust to life after cancer. Crawford said. Many hospitals struggle to provide a roadmap to navigate survivorship, Crawford added, and she’s working with several cancer resource organizations to reimagine hospitals’ survivorship programs.
“My greatest joy,” Crawford says, thinking back on her advocacy, “is when all of my connections come together, some great things have happened.”
Contact San José Spotlight intern Yale Wyatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @yalewhat on Twitter.