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Cancer Survivors Can Help in The Fight Against Cancer

Cancer survivors, their loved ones, and others who have lost someone to cancer know what the cancer journey is like. Taking part in cancer-related activities can be a two-way street. Many people find a sense of fulfillment when they help others.

Common benefits people share:

Accepting cancer as part of life. For many, getting involved gives new meaning to life.

Being less afraid of cancer. People often find that the more they know about cancer, the less they fear it.

Learning about cancer. Some have found that by keeping up with the latest trends and research, they can help others.

Feeling that your cancer experience can serve a purpose and help others. Research has shown that cancer survivors often find new meaning in their lives when they volunteer. This can be an important part of the healing process. Having more control in life. People often feel better when they work with others toward a common goal.

Meeting others who share the same kind of experiences. People often have a bond with others who have dealt with cancer.

Am I ready to get involved?

When affected by cancer, volunteering in cancer activities can be a natural reaction for some and a bigger decision for others. It’s important to be thoughtful about your reasons for wanting to take part.

For example, you may not be ready yet if you:

Are focused more on your own needs than the needs of others

Want to talk a lot about your problems with other people

Feel lonely and want to be with others who understand what you’re going through

Wonder if taking part will be a constant reminder of your cancer

People need time to deal with their feelings and make sense of their cancer experience. If you need to, talk with a counselor, spiritual advisor, psychologist, or your oncology social worker about your feelings and concerns.

Joining a support group may help as well.

You can always get involved later, when you’re truly ready to help others.

How is your health?

Think about your own health issues before you decide to give back. Decide if you have enough energy or time to start a new project. Some people want to wait until their health is better. Others choose something that’s easy for them to do now. If you’re in treatment or have recently finished, talk to your oncologist before trying something new. If you have advanced cancer, decide if you have the health and strength to get involved right now.

What are your feelings?

People often think about their own experience when they take part in a cancer-related activity. This is good for some, because it helps them deal with their own feelings. Others find it upsetting. They realize the issues are “too close to home” for them. Or they realize that learning about others’ struggles with cancer is hard to bear.

Take some time to think about your feelings. If you tend to feel very worried, angry, or depressed right now, you might want to talk with a counselor or social worker. Later, when you feel better, you can think about ways to help others.

What are you comfortable talking about? It’s your choice to share what you want to with others about your own experience with cancer. You can still get involved in cancer-related programs even if you don’t want to talk about yourself. If this is how you feel, find activities that don’t require you to share your personal feelings or thoughts.

Finding ways to make a difference

There are a number of areas where you can find ways to be an advocate in cancer. These include outreach and education, giving support, fundraising, research, or policy issues. Each area may have things you like to do, and that match your interests.

As you read the lists below, think about which items describe you, or note the ones that catch your interest the most. Look at the things that you have experience, skills, or knowledge in doing.

Helping others

I like to meet new people.

I’m good at listening to others.

I like to share cancer information with others.

I want to help people who are struggling with cancer.

People helped me/us during treatment, and now I want to do the same for others.

Learning and teaching

I would like to teach people more about cancer.

I like to talk with people—even people I don’t know.

I like to speak in front of groups of people.

I enjoy talking about issues that are important to me, like cancer screening or giving support to people with cancer.

Working on cancer-related events

I like working with people and being part of events.

I would like to help with a local event—near where I live or work.

I want to get involved but only have time to help once in a while.

I’m comfortable asking people to donate to cancer-related causes.

I’m interested in giving money, computers, or other items to a cancer-related cause.

I like having small parties or gatherings.

Working in policy

I want to help change the health care system for others with cancer.

I want to see changes in laws and policies related to cancer.

I like the idea of talking to elected officials about cancer issues.

I like to share my ideas with others through phone calls, letters, or e-mails.

I want to be part of a network that alerts people to important cancer issues.

Once you decide that you want to volunteer your time, find out who needs your help and what you can do to get started. Here are some ideas about ways to begin:

Let people know that you want to help others. Tell your family, friends, coworkers, and even your health care team that you want to get involved in cancer-related activities. Talk with them about things you like to do and ways you want to help. Ask for their ideas and suggestions.

Find out about volunteer programs where you live. Check with your local hospital or cancer center, clubs, libraries, senior centers, and places of worship to see if they have programs to help people with cancer. If any of these groups have volunteer programs, ask how you can get involved. If there isn’t a program nearby, perhaps you could start one.

Get involved with a cancer organization. Contact a cancer-related group that interests you. Talk with the person in charge of volunteers about your interests and experiences.

Join a Patient and Family Advisory Board. Hospitals and cancer centers often want survivors and their families to help them develop new programs. When you are on a Patient and Family Advisory Board, you may be asked to give advice on policies and programs and let the organization know how it can improve care for all patients.

Reprinted courtesy of the National Cancer Institute ( For more information on making a difference in the lives of cancer patients, click here to order the NCI publication Facing Forward.


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