Why I advocate for cancer survivors
Some people may read my headline and think of course I would advocate for cancer survivors because I am a cancer survivor. That’s not the entire reason why I advocate for people facing cancer, including caregivers, family members, friends and others. I don’t advocate because I feel obligated as a cancer survivor, I do it because I can and I want to.
Cancer has been part of my life almost longer than it hasn’t (now that’s a loaded statement for me to think about). Diagnosed at 21 with bone cancer, I’ve been a survivor my entire adult life (I know you are legally an adult at 18 but I was not at all an adult while in college). I feel so fortunate to make the statement that I’ve been a survivor for 20 years. The emotions that swirl around that statement are difficult to put into words.
Losing my dad to cancer more than 10 years ago brought another perspective to my relationship with the disease. He is a big part of my drive to make a difference, as are my family who watched two of us fight this disease. But I also fight for the millions of others who are survivors, will hear the terrifying words “you have cancer,” and the millions who won’t hear those words because we fight for preventive screenings, funding for research and a dream of a world without cancer.
Today is World Cancer Day, a day to bring awareness and education about the disease, encouraging people to take action and pressing governments to make fighting cancer a priority. The primary goal is to simply get people talking about cancer worldwide on one day. We, of course, fight cancer every day because it hits people on every day of the year. No breaks for holidays or special events. There are more than 30 million cancer survivors in the world. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. This means 1 of every 4 deaths is from cancer.
Becoming a cancer advocate, being really involved in the fight against the disease, seemed so natural for me. I always have believed in the importance of helping others, volunteering at nonprofits and supporting those in need. It may sound weird, but I thrive in the environment of helping others. On a personal level. It refills my heart and soul knowing I have made even one person’s day a bit better. And I love being surrounded by other like-minded people in the fight against this terrible disease that has taken so much from me. So many amazing people have entered my life, brought such joy, and motivated me to work harder. I don’t think any survivor of any disease or situation should feel obligated to give back or help others. Some people simply want to finish treatment and move on with life. That’s okay. We all survive as we know how. Many people decide years after treatment to start volunteering, when they’re ready.
I have been involved with many cancer organizations since my diagnosis. I feel fortunate for the experiences and opportunities to share my story and raise awareness of the importance of fighting this disease. I support several organizations on an ongoing basis, but am particularly honored to be part of two leading cancer organizations. My regular readers have read about my experiences with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and LIVESTRONG, from meeting with legislators in Michigan and DC to biking across Iowa to raise funds for cancer programs to sharing resources with local patients and health organizations (click on the subscribe button to become a regular reader of my blog!). I’m honored to serve as a team lead volunteer in my congressional district for ACS CAN and a Leader volunteer for LIVESTRONG. I’m committed because I’ve personally experienced the benefits provided to those affected by cancer. Both of these organizations make a critical impact in the fight against this disease.
There are easy ways for you to help others facing cancer. Here are some ideas:
- Are you a cancer survivor? Caregiver? Your knowledge and understanding are beneficial to others in similar situations! Consider sharing these as a mentor. I have met with many newly diagnosed cancer patients at my local cancer center to provide insight into treatment, tests, side effect prevention and survival tips, and much more. The beauty of technology also means you can support someone in another state or country! These can be one-time meetings or long-time relationships. The options are endless, especially with technology.
- Volunteer to be an advocacy volunteer for organizations that support cancer survivors, such as LIVESTRONG, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, National Coalition of Cancer Survivors or another similar type of nonprofit. We push to keep cancer a priority at the state and federal level. Issues include cancer research funding, access to affordable care, insurance and preventive screenings, oral chemo fairness, smoking cessation, and much more. If you’re uncomfortable meeting with your legislative officials in person, there is much you can do from the comfort of your computer. Many of these organizations will send emails to volunteers when action is needed, such as sending pre-written emails to your elected officials, sharing information on social media, and emailing letters to the editors of local medial outlets.
- Support organizations that provide education, counseling, financial support and more to cancer survivors. There are more than 30 million cancer survivors in the world, including 16 million survivors in the United State (that’s expected to grow to more than 20 million by 2026!). Access to follow up care, mental support, financial support, fertility treatment and education is vital to the health and well-being of these people. One of the greatest things that happened to me was being given a scholarship to attend a young adult cancer survivors’ conference in Montana shortly after treatment. I felt lost and alone during and after treatment, and meeting 60+ other young adult survivors, attending fantastic education sessions (relating to long-term side effects, fertility, job searching and relationships) and simply laughing with new friends helped me embrace my new ‘normal’ life. It was life-changing for me.
- Offer to be someone’s sidekick. This can be serving as a note taker during a doctor’s appointment, sitting in the waiting room, sending positive phone calls, cards and text messages, showing up with coffee, tea or a bottle of good wine. Just knowing there is someone in your corner can make the world of difference.
- Share resources. There are hundreds of organizations in the U.S. that support cancer survivors, many focused on specific cancers, genders, life issues and more. I’ve shared a few of my favorite cancer-related resources in a past post so you can check those out. I’m pretty open about my cancer journey and post-treatment life. I realized early during treatment that sharing my experiences might help others going through similar experiences. Frankly, it’s the only way I know to be….having cancer wasn’t a choice I had, but using that experience to help others is a choice I gladly make.
How else can people get involved in helping others face cancer (or any disease)?