National Cancer Institute
National Cancer Institute U.S. National Institutes of Health
Skip navigation
History of the Office of Advocacy Relations (formerly the Office of Liaison Activities)

NCI's efforts to build relationships with consumer and voluntary advocacy groups was supported by the National Cancer Advisory Board after a survey of the needs of these groups in 1993. The groups indicated overall satisfaction with NCI, but also recommended that NCI strengthen its relationships and collaboration with them and improve the communications and interactions between the NCI and these outside groups. Since that time, other studies have also confirmed that the public viewpoint is an essential component in setting policies and priorities. In addition, the public has supported customer service in Federal programs and a number of Federal agencies have started liaison efforts with advocacy and voluntary groups.

Ms. Eleanor O'Donoghue NealonMs. Eleanor O'Donoghue Nealon led the efforts to establish the Office of Liaison Activities and was the first Director of the Office of Liaison Activities when it was established in 1996. As a cancer survivor herself, Ms. Nealon tirelessly engendered changes at the National Institutes of Health, so that cancer patients could have an expanded role in the decision-making process at the NCI. Ms. Nealon graciously persuaded many in the scientific community to open their minds, eyes, and ears to those who are affected by the work done at the NCI and in research laboratories across the United States. This occurred during a time when the consumer advocate's voice was not as widely heard as it is today in the realm of scientific discovery.

Breaking new ground in 1997, Ms. Nealon led a planning effort to establish the NCI Director's Consumer Liaison Group (DCLG). The DCLG formed a new junction between science and the advocacy community, providing a two-way communication channel and helping to institutionalize consumer advocate representation on NCI committees and working groups. Ms. Nealon passed away from breast cancer in 1999.

In its 1998 report, "Scientific Opportunities and Public Needs: Improving Priority Setting and Public Input at the National Institutes of Health," the Institutes of Medicine cited the Office of Liaison Activities as a model for including the public's viewpoint and established public liaison offices in each of the 25 Institutes and Centers at NIH, and in the Office of the NIH Director as a result. During this time Ms. Elaine Lee led the Office of Liaison Activities as the Acting Director and oversaw the establishment of the DCLG as a Federal Advisory Committee to the NCI Director.

Colonel Dr. Yvonne AndejeskiIn 2000 Colonel Dr. Yvonne Andejeski joined the NCI's Office of Liaison Activities as its next Director and spearheaded efforts to develop a systematic program to involve advocates in the daily business of the Institute. Bringing her expertise from the Department of Defense (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) she established the NCI Consumer Advocates in Research and Related Activities (CARRA) program. Dr. Andejeski passed away from breast cancer in October, 2001.

Ms. Elisabeth HandleyMs. Elisabeth Handley was appointed Acting Director of OLA in 2001 and guided the development of the CARRA program and helped to lead the NCI DCLG through a period of great transition and restructuring in 2003. Ms. Handley also oversaw the development and implementation of the pilot NCI Listens and Learns website.

Ms. Brooke Hamilton was Acting Director of OLA from spring of 2005 through 2006. In the fall of 2006 Ms. Lenora Johnson accepted the Acting Director position and continued the work of her predecessors to include the voices of those most affected by cancer in the NCI.

On October 29, 2007 Ms. Shannon Bell, MSW, began her tenure as the new Director of the newly named Office of Advocacy Relations (OAR).  Shannon has worked in the past as an advocate for children and families, and has gained a wide-array of experience at NCI over the last 8 years.  She was chosen from an impressive field of internal and external candidates for her leadership skills, as well as for her expertise in communicating effectively at all organizational levels. NCI welcomes Shannon as the new Director of NCI's Office of Advocacy Relations.

The Office of Advocacy Relations Today

Advocacy and voluntary organizations concerned about cancer are important constituents of the National Cancer Institute. Their members are cancer patients, their families, researchers, and health care professionals. These organizations focus on education, support, research, fund raising, lobbying, and advocacy. They influence their members, the media, the public, and policy makers.

National advocacy and voluntary organizations bring new demands for participating in and contributing to medical/scientific agendas. These groups need to be a part of the decision-making process and to share their views and valuable perspectives. They also have the capability to carry health messages and programs with credibility and clout to their members across the country. Interacting with these groups to build common agendas is essential. Consumers and the public make valuable contributions to Federal agencies. OAR serves as a catalyst to link these groups with NCI programs and to ensure that the viewpoint of people affected by cancer is heard by the NCI.