Patti Morris, a state lead ambassador with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, began advocacy work in 2005. Her team helped pass Massachusetts’ tobacco control law that limits the sale of flavored tobacco and vapes.
BRIDGEWATER — Cancer is personal for Patti Morris. Between she and her husband, they have 33 family members who have had, died from or still have the disease.
Morris got involved with the American Cancer Society because of her mother, who survived lung and breast cancer and died in 2018 when her lung cancer returned. She participated and organized charity walks, like Relay for Life, before starting volunteer advocacy work through the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in 2005.
“Since I started doing (advocacy) I can’t stop,” Morris said. “I have a voice that can be heard.”
She serves as a state lead ambassador for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which coordinates a team of volunteer advocates.
They email, call and meet with state and federal lawmakers to talk about legislation and potential funding for cancer research and prevention efforts. Posting on social media is also part of the team’s work.
In Massachusetts, Morris led a team that advocated for a tobacco control law that limited the sale of flavored tobacco to adult tobacco shops and taxed vaping products, which can help curb youth vaping.
The bill passed on Nov. 21, 2019 — Morris’ birthday — and went into effect this summer. It made Massachusetts the first state to ban the sale of flavored tobacco at most stores and online.
“It was the best birthday gift I have ever received,” she said.
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This effort earned Morris and volunteers the state advocacy team of the year award from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
They found out Sept. 13 during the organization’s virtual lobby day.
Morris said she jumped up and down when she learned the news. It felt amazing to be recognized, she said.
The team has also raised money for efforts like Lights of Hope, which remembers those lost to cancer.
Tobacco control is important to Morris because she has lost so many to cancer, including lung cancer.
Her focus on youth tobacco control is also personal. Morris has four grandchildren and wants to make sure they are never tempted by their peers with vaping and flavored tobacco.
She told a story about her grandson who smelt someone smoking a vape that smelled like Dunkaroos, the cookie and frosting snack, and that made him hungry.
Morris told him about the negative effects of vaping, and he replied that he didn’t think it could be bad because it smelled good. She said that conversation made her want to break down and cry.
“I want to make sure my grandchildren never hear the words, ‘You have cancer,'” Morris said.
Preventing children and teens from smoking could prevent them from smoking at all, she added. Her mother-in-law who died of lung cancer started smoking when she was 9 years old.
When Morris started advocacy work and had her first trip to Washington D.C., she was nervous. After that, she realized that lawmakers aren’t different than her and that they want to hear constituents’ stories.
Morris said it’s amazing when she gets off the phone with someone who says they want to support cancer research and prevention.
“I want to make sure researchers get funds they need to continue to make everyone’s lives better,” Morris said.
Staff writer Mina Corpuz can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.