Health Care, Food-plus & Health: View from a First Lady of Cancer

By Lavinia Gene Weissman
@wecarehealth, The Story of Meaningful Use

Lee Atwater, political adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, died of Cancer at age 40, during the Clinton Administration and during the launch of Health Care Reform. In an article before his death, Atwater wrote,

“Long before I was struck by cancer, I felt something stirring in American society; it was a sense among the people of the country – Republicans and Democrats alike – that something was missing from their lives, something crucial…I wasn’t exactly sure what the “it” was. My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what is missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.”

Why is it taking women to lead a change to the face of health in the US? Solo Heretic or Collaborative Leadership?

Michelle Obama, in a conversation (not speech) that a group of woman can have together, informed Barbara Walters and her lovely cohort of “The View” that the First Lady’s platform influences not only a national but an international audience. This began with Jackie Kennedy’s platform of beautification, followed during other First Lady platforms on education and literacy that were successful and Hillary Clinton’s failed initiative with Health Care Reform.

Michelle saw an opportunity to shape her career in service to educate people on the most valuable tool for health by addressing the US childhood obesity crisis that is growing into the diabetes pandemic by creating less government (politics) and building awareness to create a behavior change of societal and cultural impact. Michelle Obama recently published American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Other Gardens Across America. Over the past 3.5 years, Michelle has used her talent, professional education and capacity as a leader to influence change of an international scale impacting health.

This made me wonder, as a challenged Cholangio Carcinoma Cancer patient, how to adopt this example as the First Lady of Cancer to address all the issues in this country that have spiraled out of control for a majority of chronically ill people like me.

I capture my research and volume of articles on the impact of health with stories of meaningful use. Examples include articles archived as

• Cancer Treatment and Healing
• Sanofi Aventis Story Capture
• Health
• Capacity Building
• Pharma
• Multiple Sclerosis

Most of this thought was leveraged from my review, interaction and research that traces back to the 1980’s convening of the Brundtland Commission, research on the Precautionary Principle (to Do No Harm) and its implied meaning and examining a cycle of slow emerging change from “Heretic” to a shift of understanding “Collaborative Leadership.”

Thought Leader Art Kleiner gave definition and story capture to the emerging change agents tracing the history of Heretics. Heretics are change agents so passioned they can easily get shot!

I responded to Art in 1996, with his first edition, and told him how sad that made me, because change had to be community driven. In 1993, I had investigated what was implied by my male colleagues to create collaborative change through communities of practice and systems thinking, a challenge for a female leadership coach to convene the best practice group of colleagues (all men) to examine the role of leadership.

For me, like Michelle, it became a career of service and platform, not a professionally compensated career, learning through projects as a professional volunteer:

• for Vice President’s Al Gores White House Initiative called NetResults.
• in numerous community of practices related to research and examination of British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, Pew Marine and Oxfam.

From Royal Sovereignty to Values-driven Civil Leadership? What is it women do uniquely and how?

In the mid 90s through the advice of UNICEF advisor, international journalist, Varinda Tarzie Vitacchi, UNICEF found a civil approach to leading change. Vitacchi became Deputy Director for External Relations during Executive Director James Moore’s reign. Vitacchi found that going into a village and reaching the mothers in a tribe with a health program resulted in implementation and adoption if the Mom’s were trained as educators. This method and approach became NGO 101 of any course I studied on leading change. Through this strategy, leadership began to grow into a civil format that was outcome-focused and educationally driven as a development method, which gave a community the responsibility to serve its own health with the intent of “educating driven moms.”

Michelle Obama found a new format, less “heroic” or volunteer driven, a credible and wide reach of influence to link health initiatives, which includes linking with media and educational forum of leadership and communication that has proved impact:

• The First Lady partnered with ABC’s Extreme Makeover on her garden concept, built out of her Veteran Program and Let’s Move It (nutrition and health).

• Jamie Oliver presented his innovative philanthropic fund raiser with TED, became part of the collaboration at ABC to fight OBESITY. Jamie with his Food Revolution took on destructive food systems in schools and more to create a new eating pattern in a community and adoption of health food and recipes.

• The View has celebrated 16 years bringing women’s voice to ABC successfully in its format, modelling the benefit of education and civil dialogue with Michelle. While not perfectly, it shows the tension of disagreement and salutation when something like “American Kitchen Gardens” is done right.

Moving forward to 2012

UNICEF and John F. Pepper, former CEO of Procter and Gamble, initiated a values driven leadership, professional development and much more to lead companies and empower leaders to initiate what is now described as a triple bottom line that measures health of the environment, health, habitat and economy. That was my experience of Pepper when I completed a leadership study of P&G with a team in the 1980s. Ideas were not discussed at P&G by its leadership; they were made so with teams by leaders. But the team structure in an organization that is inspired top down is much too slow to inspire a societal impact of change in culture and people organizationally that impacts social frameworks. Values driven leadership is not one-leader driven or advised. We see this demonstrated with the First Lady of leadership collaboration.

What About Today?
Insurance and health care have gone “structurally green” and not sufficiently healthy to be responsive to patient-centric, evidence-based preventative and lifestyle focused care. Health, nutrition and lifestyle has a new economic focus on purchasing local “farmers market” organic produce and cooking local and seasonal that is Cancer-treatment and prevention based. Even with the stone-wall approach to health as health care, there is a way of living for habitat, economy, environment that helps people living with cancer or chronic illness.

There are many obstacles to implementing healthful health care. Like many others, currently I am in a gridlock within the Medicaid system that is obstructing my capacity and mind, body and spirit. As a patient with Cholangio Carcinoma, I am likely to live out my life with this disease as my companion and I have the intent to do that in the healthiest way possible with the possibility of cure and building a model for others.

Join me in the creation of more than a movement to change and reform health care to healthy treatment for chronic illness and cancer. Contact me here.