Spotlight on Gary Bloom, Executive Director of the Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association

Alan Gilstrap | August 28, 2012

Gary Bloom, Executive Director of the Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association spoke with us about the challenges that come with running a patient organization.

How did you become involved in advocacy work?
From two experiences: first, my personal experience as a thyroid cancer survivor, diagnosed in 1995 and as a participant in 2 clinical trials related to thyroid cancer, and second, connecting with other thyroid cancer survivors, shortly after my diagnosis, and along with them co-founding the nonprofit ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association, Inc.

What were some of your early challenges in becoming part of or leading this organization?
The main early challenge was finding ways to get the word out to patients, caregivers, and the medical professional community about the existence and availability of ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association and its broad array of free support groups, other support services, publications, and educational events.

What are the biggest challenges your organization faces today?
Continuing challenges include the need to reach and serve everyone touched by thyroid cancer, as the population of thyroid cancer survivors continues to increase dramatically, as well as to increase thyroid cancer research, to raise public awareness of neck checks for early detection, and to continue to expand the multiple pathways for reaching patients, caregivers, professionals, and the public.

What keeps you motivated?
The awareness of the importance of ThyCa's services and efforts, the difference ThyCa is making in people's lives, the feedback from patients, caregivers, and professionals, and the wonderful people I have met from the beginnings of this organization and continuing today.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about establishing a new patient organization or taking a leadership role in one?
We are eager to help anyone who is dedicated to serving patients and caregivers, and strengthening the worldwide network of services, resources, and communications. We welcome collaborations and want to help the next organization. Don’t reinvent the wheel, work with existing organizations to develop programs.

What opportunities do you see for advancing awareness of rare diseases in the future?
ThyCa continues to expand our outreach pathways for reaching more people, including patients, families, professionals, and the public, through year-round awareness campaigns, through our collaborations in rare disease awareness efforts, and through our sponsorship of worldwide Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month each September. As a major component of our efforts, ThyCa invites and encourages collaborations with professionals, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals, and are proud to credit our collaborators and partnering organizations through the Honor Roll on our web site.

What are some examples of initiatives or programs your organization has implemented that you feel have been most successful?
Examples of successful programs include our face-to-face and online support groups and one-to-one support, our numerous free publications, our conferences, workshops, and seminars, our online webinars, and our outreach and awareness campaigns including sponsorship of worldwide Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month every September, and our thyroid cancer research grants. We are happy to collaborate with other organizations, and do so with numerous organizations on an ongoing basis.

When you are not working hard as a patient group leader, what do you like to do in your spare time? What hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to spend time with my wife and 2 teenage children. I also like to exercise, listen to music, and read.

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