Former Whidbey resident leads fight against cancer

Touched by the stories of many fellow community members on Whidbey Island, an Oak Harbor High School alumna is now leading efforts to advance policies that will help eliminate barriers to cancer care in the state.

Earlier this month, Audrey Miller García, who graduated from the high school in 2007, became the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s government relations director in Washington.

Year round, she will advocate on behalf of residents, doctors and scientists to expand equitable access to treatment so anyone, regardless of their ZIP code, can have a better chance of defeating cancer. At the same time, she will lead efforts to secure more funding for research.

Over time, cancer has become a less scary diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of dying from cancer has been dropping by 2% every year since 2015. In the 1990s, it decreased at a rate of 1%.

Though Washington can boast cutting-edge cancer care technology, not every Washingtonian has access to it, Miller García said. Income and location can heavily affect one’s chances of survival.

Back when she lived on Whidbey, Miller García witnessed how living in a rural community can be difficult for people needing medical help and are forced to drive hours away just to see a doctor.

“Because of where you live, you may not have the same chance to fight this disease or get the best care,” she said.

As it happens in many families, she has had loved ones who have received a cancer diagnosis. Many of the people around her, she said, couldn’t even afford TRICARE, the uniformed service health care program.

“Whidbey Island is a very beautiful place, but if you don’t have access to TRICARE, you may be insured but you may not really have anywhere to go,” she said. “Living there is a struggle.”

For the past few years, Miller García has been advocating for the expansion of equitable access to biomarker testing at the Washington State Legislature.

According to the National Cancer Institute, biomarker testing is a laboratory method in which technicians look at a sample of tissue or blood for genes, proteins or other molecules that could be a sign of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, biotesting can also help patients with arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart conditions and neurological conditions. But not everyone has coverage for those tests.

“The longer you wait to get the right treatment, the longer you’re suffering, the more your disease is advancing,” she said.

Miller García was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in her 20s. Before she moved to Ballard, she used to have to drive to Camano Island to see a doctor who would renew her insulin prescription, as she had Medicaid.

By fighting for cancer patients, Miller García hopes to make care accessible for people affected by other conditions.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the experiences and the place I came from,” she said. “I carry those folks with me and I’ll be working hard for them.”