By Ann Miller Baker
The bus leaves a lot earlier than any school bus she’s even ridden. But 15-year old Krysten Manley looks forward to this ride every year. Hours before the sun rises on February 20th, she’ll be headed from Tampa to Tallahassee as one of nearly 60 Speak Out for Moffitt volunteers. They gather on a date designated each year as Moffitt Day in the state capitol to meet with lawmakers, educate about Moffitt’s mission and ask for continued state support for the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida.
Krysten loves the experience. “People aren’t getting paid to do this; they are just so passionate,” she says. “Their stories are so unique and they show how much Moffitt does in the community.”
The daughter of a Moffitt employee, Krysten started volunteering for Moffitt Day when she was ten, helping to set up displays and hand out Moffitt information. She still remembers many of the people she’s met on those four-hour rides. One in particular stands out; a gentleman she met on one of her first Speak Out trips.
“He had been going to Moffitt for quite some time for treatment of an advanced stage cancer,” Krysten recalls. “He said he’d been to so many other hospitals. But when he got to Moffitt, it was so warm and welcoming that it made him want to give life a second chance. I was pretty young when he told me that story, but it stuck with me.”
Patients’ stories are an inspirational element of Moffitt Day every year. Different survivors share details of their cancer journeys with legislators in one-on-one meetings, in a press conference and at an end-of-day reception at the capitol. Cancer center founder and former Florida Speaker of the House H. Lee Moffitt is always in attendance as well. “He really cares about this hospital, this cause and all of these people,” Krysten remarks. “And they are always so grateful to him.”
Partly as a result of her experience with Speak Out, Krysten has developed an interest in a political career. She’s pursuing dual enrollment at Pasco High School’s Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education Program to allow her to enroll in college-level political science classes next fall. She’s also volunteering as a legislative messenger for Representative Chris Latvala (R - Clearwater) during her upcoming spring break. Someday, she predicts, she’ll run for president. But in the meantime, she encourages everyone to get involved with local government and good causes like Moffitt.
“This is something you should talk about to your local representatives,” she says. “Use your voice to support organizations like Moffitt that make good use of state funding. They really care about their patients!”