BATON ROUGE, LA (BRPROUD) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and after her own battle with breast cancer, a former state representative is advocating for better patient care and screenings.

Cancer can happen to anyone, at any time and for former State Representative Julie Stokes it came at the worst time possible, smack dab in the middle of her campaign for State Treasurer.

“It was a really difficult time in my life. I felt a lump, but I was really busy with session so I didn’t follow up on it for a bit. I was involved in running statewide at that time so I was so busy. I remember I felt this lump and I let it go for a month in a half, maybe two. On the last day of session I told my assistant to make me an appointment. I need to have this checked out,” Stokes said.

Stokes was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2017.

“I had to give up my dream and deal with the fact that I was being faced with cancer and tell my kids. It felt like the world was burning down around me.”

Stokes went through two rounds of chemo.

“That second chemo was extremely difficult. The amount of burden it puts on your mind. They don’t call it the red devil for nothing.”

She lost her hair and her energy, but she didn’t lose her spirit.

“There’s always the wise words ‘turn your mess into your ministry’. So sometimes in the face of real bad things you can find fruit in it and that’s what I always tried to do.”

Stokes is now cancer free, and she’s using her platform to advocate for better patient care.

“We have one of the highest incidences in the United States and we formed the Advocacy Group of Louisiana to make sure that we advocate for good cancer care right here in Louisiana.”

She helped pass legislation to make 3D mammography available at no cost to patients. Some of her other bills provide greater access to high quality care for cancer patients.

“This session we have more legislation coming up in 20-21, so that is one thing where I’ve turned my mess into my ministry. That’s really important to me.”

A ministry she will continue to fight for as long as she can.

“Don’t take your health for granted. I did. I did. And maybe if I didn’t wait those extra two months because I was busy maybe things would have turned out different you know. You always think that there’s tomorrow, but there’s no time like the present.”