Around Jefferson: Cancer network honors Metairie volunteer _lowres

Photo provided by American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network -- Amber Stevens, fourth from the left, was recently named the State Lead Ambassador of the Year by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Also pictured, from left, are Molly Daniels, chief advocacy officer for the network; Kelly Headrick, network vice president of field operations; Gary Reedy, chief executive officer for the American Cancer Society; and Dr. Christy Russell, chairwoman of the network board.

For her many years of volunteer and advocacy work to make cancer awareness and research a priority, Metairie resident Amber Stevens has been named the State Lead Ambassador of the Year by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The annual award was presented on Sept. 27 in Washington, D.C., as part of the group’s annual leadership summit and lobby day. It is given to a state volunteer who has demonstrated exemplary leadership in advocating for the network’s area of cancer-related public policy.

“I am honored and humbled to have received this award,” Stevens said. “I am also proud to be a part of the things ACS CAN has accomplished in Louisiana.”

“As the state lead ambassador, Amber has inspired her fellow Louisianans to advocate for the many cancer patients and survivors here in Louisiana and across the country,” said Chris Hansen, president of the network. “We are grateful for Amber’s outstanding contributions to public policies that can reduce death and suffering from cancer.”

According to a news release from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Network office in Tampa, Florida, ACS CAN, a nonprofit organization affiliate of the American Cancer Society, is the nation’s largest cancer advocacy organization supporting evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.

As the state lead ambassador for Louisiana, Stevens is the volunteer contact for U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter, working with staff members and other volunteers to set legislative campaign goals for the state.

Stevens, 68, has volunteered with ACS CAN for 13 years, including six years in the role of Louisiana’s state lead ambassador. She is also a longtime volunteer for the American Cancer Society, having been involved in Relay for Life for the past 19 years, including two years as relay chairwoman. She also participates in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, is a volunteer for the annual celebrity waiters luncheon and volunteers at the Patrick F. Taylor Hope Lodge in Old Jefferson.

Stevens worked to help pass the Louisiana Clean Indoor Air Act and received the American Cancer Society’s Mid-South Division Advocacy Volunteer of the Year Award for 2007-08.

“I made phone calls to my state legislators and had meetings with them at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge as well as in their local offices,” Stevens said. “I also testified in committee hearings and assisted in organizing other volunteers who felt the same way about having clean air in our restaurants and workplaces.”

And earlier this year, Stevens was actively involved in the effort to make New Orleans bars and casinos smoke free.

“I attended the New Orleans City Council meetings and read a testimony of a patient too ill to attend the meeting because her cancer was caused by secondhand smoke,” Stevens said.

“Amber is passionate about ensuring all Louisianans can breathe clean indoor air,” said Lydia Kuykendal, Louisiana government relation director for ACS CAN. “She was involved every step of the way in the effort to make New Orleans smoke free, from attending and helping to pack City Council meetings and rallies to submitting letters to the editors and doing interviews for TV and radio.”

In 2014, Stevens was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that develops in the cells of the outer layer of the skin.

“I found it, and I was treated very early,” said Stevens, who has four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “And after 15 radiation treatments, I am now cancer free.”

This past June, Stevens’ husband of 31 years, Conrad, was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer.

“He had no previous symptoms,” said Stevens, adding that her husband was a 25-year prostate cancer survivor. “And this (liver) cancer took his life in less than three weeks.”

Stevens said that over the years, there have been many rewarding as well as challenging aspects of her volunteer work.

“It is very rewarding when someone tells me their life was saved because researchers were able to develop a pill for their cancer treatment or they were able to avoid colon cancer by having a polyp removed before it became cancerous,” Stevens said “And it is especially rewarding when someone says ‘thanks’ for making it possible for them to breathe clean air in restaurants and workplaces.

“And what has been the most challenging has been getting our state legislators to support laws that will help Louisiana become a state with less cancer, saving the lives of our citizens.”

For information about ACS CAN, visit www.acscan.org or call the American Cancer Society Call Center at (800) 227-2345.

Eva Jacob Barkoff writes about the people and events in Jefferson Parish. She can be reached at ejbarkoff@gmail.com