Cancer Tips Health

Why I advocate for cancer survivors

Daily gratitude at being a cancer survivor.

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.

This man motivates me to fight against cancer. Miss him.

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)?

19 thoughts on “Why I advocate for cancer survivors

  1. My mom’s mom beat 7 different cancers before her 8th took her, Pancreatic. Since then, 2 of my mom’s sisters died of the disease. It’s hard, knowing my mom’s likely fate, and perhaps mine as well. Cancer seems more rampant than ever today, everyone has been effected somehow by it. Way to use something so negative to you to show such strength Heather!

    1. Wow, Ashley, eight times?! What an inspiring fighter your mom was. I’m sorry for your losses and sending hugs to you. It’s a terrible disease, which motivates me to keep working against it. xo

  2. I’m sorry to hear how cancer has been part of your life so long. It has touched us all in some way. Thank you for your wonderful support for Cancer patients. I’m helping a neighbor now who has been going through treatment for several months now. It breaks my heart to see him go through this. But being there always helps the patient. God Bless you!!

  3. Thank you for all the support you give to Cancer patients and survivors. 💕I feel like it’s easy to forget about the aftermath of surviving and solely focus on the person making it through alive. Cancer can have lasting effects, so I’m glad there are strong people such as yourself to help them. Unfortunately, 3/4 of my grandparents had cancer and died, so my hope is that more research is done on geriatric cancer diagnosis. All too often doctors misdiagnose elderly patients and that’s exactly what happened to each of my grandparents. I don’t blame them but I do think we need more tools or info on the subject.

    1. Nicolette, I’m sorry you lost your grandparents to this terrible disease. More research definitely needs to be done on many areas. These are the things that motivate me to stay involved as an advocate.

  4. I love your drive, determination, and giving spirit. I am happy for you that you are a cancer survivor too. There are so many who don’t. My friend had a scare last year so this is close to me. Thanks for sharing what is evidently a big part of your heart.

  5. This was so moving to read and heartfelt. I think that the unfortunate reality today is that cancer has touched all of our lives in some way – if not directly, then through someone that we know or care about. I hope to see a cure in my lifetime and I believe it’s because of people like you who continue the fight, that we will see that day.

    1. I agree that cancer seems to touch all of us now. Thank you for your kind words and support. I hope for a cure too. We’ll get there.

  6. I’m so glad you advocate for cancer survivors! It’s important for cancer patients to see examples and have hope. I know how devastating cancer can be; my fiance’s mother and his cousin both passed away after battles with cancer, so we always try to support cancer research through direct donations or charity fundraisers with running races and bike events. Keep up the good work raising awareness and connecting with other survivors!

    1. I’m sorry about your losses from this disease. Your support of research and raising funds helps in our fight. Thank YOU for what you do!

  7. Heather, what an incredible share! Thank you for this, sincerely.

    I came across this quote in the coffee shop this morning, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” I thought what can I do every day to make the world a little better? Next weekend, I’m participating in Cycle for Survival in support to find the cure for rare cancers. God bless you for making a difference and spreading awareness and supporting cancer survivors.

    1. Thank you for sharing that quote – I LOVE it! I’m always asking what more can I do? Good for you for participating in the cycling class! Every person and effort adds up to make a big difference. xo

  8. Hi Heather; to cut a long story short: cancer has just become an issue in my own family in the past few months, and I’d just like to say that this is a timely and heartening post to read.
    Your commitment really does you credit. 🙂

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    1. Buffy, I’m sorry to hear that cancer has touched your life. It’s a challenge and rocks your world. I’m glad you found my post helpful, and appreciate you sharing that (it motivates me!). I hope things brighten for you and your family soon.

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