it rolls off the tongue…

By Erin McDermott Perkins

Advocacy: “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy”.

From the beginning of my memory I have been a recommender, a friend who comes alongside all who need a friend. The thing I was born to do is advocate. I knew it first as a college student when my heart longed to be an Invisible Children Roadie. At age 20 I could feel the pull there; to stand with, to speak out, to make change. By 22 I was face to face with sixteen then strangers in the heat of the Southern California summer about to hop on a brand new, donated, entry level, pink seated Fuji road bike, and ride across fourteen states and one province to advocate for Blood:Water. The task of the Ride:Well Bike tour was simple (on paper anyway), to ride our bikes to each established church connection on our route each day, to stop and share the mission of Blood:Water, “to empower communities to come together against the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa”. It still rolls off the tongue. By graduation I had my 1998 Nissan Sentra packed to the brim with duffle bags that held all my belongings, and I was driving to Nashville so I could intern for Blood:Water. Then, came interning for Mocha Club, then leading another Ride:Well Bike tour from sunny San Diego (the wrong way) up the west coast to Seattle, again to advocate for Blood:Water.

It was on that second bike tour where I met my now husband. I still say now that I tricked him into believing I was athletic by being the leader of that bike tour, when really I was just being myself, an advocate (and someone who is a very slow cyclist who loves taking breaks and sometimes gets in the support van, because we can still advocate from the van, let’s be real). By 24 I had moved to Seattle and started interning at Rwanda Partners when one of my fellow interns told me about an organization I had heard of briefly but hadn’t looked into: World Relief. By 25, I was married to my biking buddy, and interning at World Relief Seattle. I became more of my advocate self there at World Relief, working to “empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable”, and I connected into the sweet world of beautiful people who come to the United States seeking refugee from reasonable fear of persecution and danger. The obviously Biblical work of welcoming the “stranger” into a foreign land expanded my heart and my hope to advocate for refugee policies and communal/Church support. It rolled off the tongue.

By 31 I had become a mother, and moved to North Carolina from Seattle, and found that International Justice Mission now had opportunities to be on local volunteer teams. There was one right near me, in Raleigh, so I immediately applied because I wanted to join in their mission of protecting people in poverty from violence as they partner with local authorities in 24 program offices in 14 countries to combat trafficking and slavery, violence against women and children, and police abuse of power. By 34, I had served on the volunteer team for 2 years and had a second child, I started living through a global pandemic with all of you, and had applied for and been offered the task of being the volunteer team leader for IJM Raleigh. I was so excited at the opportunity as it rolled right off the tongue.

Two weeks after being offered the team lead volunteer position, I was diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 3, Triple Negative Invasive Ductile Carcinoma Breast Cancer in my right breast. It was 3.6cm at it’s largest, and I was completely at an end of myself. I lived in a daze, convinced that this was a death sentence (without yet knowing I was Triple Negative). I didn’t sleep or eat, breathing got harder. Satisfaction was sparse at best. A sobbing prayer of begging to the God I believe hears me, holding my sons hand, a snuggle. Nothing that used to be able to distract me from pain had any effect on this. I was drowning. I went to the surreal appointments, unable to understand the foreign language of medical jargon, and my husband took notes, neither one of us knew much about what to ask. I got connected to one group on facebook of local ladies with breast cancer, and only after I started chemotherapy, saw them posting about before scans they got to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread, scans I had no idea to ask for. I saw people talking about their ki67 and notingham scale score; I didn’t know what it was or how to find mine. I couldn’t read research at that time either. I couldn’t listen to others talk about Triple Negative. It didn’t fit into my sinking pit of despair. There was no room for it. I believe God protected me from my inability to advocate for myself, and I think one reason is so I can live to advocate for others. I want to come alongside newly diagnosed women, and be their ears and eyes. I want to help them learn this new language that is Breast Cancer, and know their options before they are too deep into things if I can. I want to bear the brunt of the blows of fear, and stand in the gap. I want to learn more about the devastating truths around healthcare disparities, and stand up, stand with, and create change.

By 35 and a half, I became an ANGEL advocate for the Tigerlily Foundation because I believe in their mission to educate, advocate for, empower, and support young women, before, during and after breast cancer, and their vision we seeking to educate and empower women of all backgrounds, including those at heightened risk, those facing health disparities, and those with less access to care. (tigerlilyfoundation.org) It rolls off the tongue.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin and end the moment we become silent on the things that matter”.

I have walked, following the words of Jesus in the Bible, in love (Ephesians 5:2), and in wisdom (Colossians 4:5) towards whatever things that I see matter to God. I see that He stands with, and advocates for all who need a friend, anyone who is oppressed, forgotten, or estranged, overlooked, underrepresented. God moves in me in this way. He created me to be an advocate, and in humility and Biblical wisdom I go where He sends me…towards the things that matter. It rolls off the tongue.