By Katy Hopkins - 11/17/09 11:13 PM EST
“You know there’s an age when girls don’t like pink anymore?” Luray asks with a laugh. Apparently, 8-year-old Mia had reached it.
It’s also a chance for Luray, a seasoned D.C. professional, to tap into her passion for helping the masses.
“I was a psychology major in college,” explains Luray, 47. “About halfway through, I realized I was more interested in making changes more broadly.”
She took that motivation to Washington, serving at various time as legislative director to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); director of the Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach in the Clinton White House; chief of staff to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.); and, most recently, senior director of government affairs and policy at Abbott Laboratories.
Although she is a political veteran, working at Komen has struck a more intimate chord with her than have past jobs, since she has the opportunity to connect with patients and survivors on a daily basis.
“It does tap into a part of me that is personal,” Luray says, bowing her head as she mentions the “surprising people” who have approached her with private stories since she accepted her new post in September. “You can’t help but be impacted by that. As a woman, you want to make a difference for other women.”
Luray was thrown into her new role of working with Congress, the White House and executive agencies toward better treatment, lower costs and, ultimately, a cure for the disease that affects one in eight women — all at the beginning of breast cancer awareness month.
Luray says her first couple of months have been a chaotic experience similar to an endlessly climbing rollercoaster.
“There are no downs,” she says. “It’s just up, up, up, up, up.”
So far, she has devoted her energy to lobbying for healthcare reform to include insurance protections for women who have or who have survived breast cancer — a “black mark,” Luray says, on many health insurance applications.
“Breast cancer … too often ends up being why you can’t find insurance anymore,” Luray says. She’s been lobbying with women like Lucy Spears, a breast cancer survivor from South Carolina who was dropped from her health insurance and says she’ll be paying off her $70,000 treatment bill for the rest of her life.
As a co-chairwoman of the Cancer Caucus, “it’s an ongoing issue with me,” Myrick says.
And Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) became a fresh face in the fight against breast cancer when, in March, she shocked colleagues and the public with her announcement that she had undergone breast cancer treatment in secret over the previous year while simultaneously running a congressional office, helping lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s and President Barack Obama’s election efforts and raising a family. Shortly after, Wasserman Shultz, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), introduced the EARLY Act, a bill that would devote $45 million over five years to education on the disease, among other provisions — making breast cancer awareness a high-profile policy issue once again.
But Luray won’t confine her efforts to the halls of Congress. As the main liaison between the Komen foundation and the White House, as well as health agencies, Luray plans to use her broad experience in Washington to bring an understanding of all the ways an outside institution can effect change.
“There are lots of different arenas where you can make a difference,” she says. “You can make a difference on the Hill, you can make a difference in the administration, you can make a difference in the White House, you can make a difference vis-à-vis coalitions.”
Having so many possibilities also poses her biggest challenge — a “good news, bad news situation,” she says.
“I feel like there are so many different ways we can make a difference, so it’s really just prioritization,” Luray says. “You do have to focus in order to make a difference.”
But at least one past employer, Mikulski, has faith in Luray’s ability to juggle.
“As my chief of staff, she managed to coordinate nine Senate women together to write a book about the paths we took to the Senate,” Mikulski said in a statement. “If she could organize us, she will be able to organize the healthcare system to fight breast cancer.”
Luray’s new position also includes mobilizing breast-cancer advocates across the country, setting her job apart from that of the typical Washington lobbyist.
“You’re spending a fair amount of energy actually helping your grassroots [advocates] with basic advocacy tools,” Luray says.
“How do you help to train, inspire and educate people so that they can be effective?”
“I think Jenny has the kind of energy and drive and vision and projects hope, which we all have, for the future — for a world without breast cancer,” says Brinker.
Luray continues to look to daughter Mia as motivation. Though her new job has provided present-day bonding moments with her daughter — over the color pink and Mia’s pride in seeing the Komen logo on a bag of M&M’s — Luray hopes to contribute to better education about breast cancer, lower treatment costs and, eventually, a cure.
“I hope that when my daughter grows up, it will be a very different playing field,” Luray says.