Kathryn West fires the starting pistol at Stage 3 of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California. (Photo: Andy Tao/AJTSport)

Last weekend, the patient advocacy community lost a fierce advocate, leader, and innovator in raising awareness of the issues cancer survivors experience. Kathryn West, oncology nurse and fierce advocate for cancer patients, died of cancer herself in Los Angeles last Sunday.

NCCS first met Kathryn through her role as Advocacy Director for Amgen. Her vision to increase awareness of resources for people affected by cancer led her to champion the creation of Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer®. Breakaway shares cancer patient resources for the entire cancer experience, from prevention through survivorship, as an integral part of Amgen’s Tour of California. NCCS has been a proud partner in this effort since the Tour’s inception in 2005.

Kathryn’s instincts in her advocacy role were driven by her career as an oncology nurse and her understanding that the effects of cancer go far beyond just the physical. Kathryn combined that knowledge with her determination and collaborative spirit to evolve Breakaway from an exhibit at the first Amgen Tour of California, to four strong partners covering the continuum of the cancer experience during the Tour and throughout the year.

Kathryn West with Breakaway from Cancer Ambassador Patrick Dempsey. (Photo: Andy Tao/AJTSport)

To help raise awareness further, Kathryn engaged celebrity spokespeople, including Patrick Dempsey, Joan Lunden, and Katherine Kelly Lang, who each truly understood the devastating effects a cancer diagnosis has on an individual and his or her loved ones.

Over the years, many of the NCCS staff attended Breakaway from Cancer® events. We, our fellow advocacy partners, and the Breakaway staff were like family on the road for 10 days traveling throughout California. Many of us got to know Kathryn well during our time together, and her cancer diagnosis was a shock to us all.

To no one’s surprise, she brought the same strength and resilience as an advocate to her own cancer experience. She continued to lead by example, bringing the struggles of cancer to the forefront by being brutally honest about fears, side effects, and setbacks of her cancer. Her stories always had an element of humor, but it was hard to watch our Breakaway leader endure cancer when she had spent her entire life serving patients and survivors.

All of us at NCCS, and the entire Breakaway family, will remember Kathryn for her relentless advocacy and unapologetic leadership. She will be missed greatly, and never forgotten.

“Kathryn was a true force of nature. It was such cruel irony that after decades of advocacy for cancer patients, she was diagnosed with cancer herself. I remember last year, during the Tour, she was on stage with other cancer survivors, and she had an emotional moment, realizing that she was now a member of the club no one wants to join. We are deeply grateful to Kathryn for her advocacy and will continue to advocate for patients in her honor.” – Shelley Fuld Nasso, NCCS CEO

“From the moment I met Kathryn at a Tour of California event, I knew she was someone I could learn from both professionally and personally. It was clear from seeing how she interacted with her staff, advocates, and even celebrities, that she could teach me about leadership and advocacy. Over the course of the week, I enjoyed getting to know Kathryn beyond the Breakaway leader and got to know how funny and compassionate a woman she was as well. I am so grateful to have known Kathryn, both before her diagnosis and after, and our time spent together at Breakaway will always be special to me.” — Kelsey Nepote, NCCS Advocacy Manager.

Kathryn poses with Breakaway Ambassador Katherine Kelly Lang and a group of staff members from Breakaway from Cancer partner organizations.

Kathryn’s friends and colleagues shared their thoughts and remembrances on social media.


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