Making a Difference

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 07/2015

People who have dealt with cancer firsthand often want to support others with cancer. Whether you are a cancer survivor or care about someone living with cancer, you have valuable experience that can help others. Becoming a volunteer makes an important difference in someone else's life. It also positively affects your own life.

Volunteering offers different rewards for everyone. In fact, many volunteers say sharing their time makes them feel good, helps them build new friendships, and widens their support network.

Getting started

Once you've made the decision to become a volunteer, think about your interests, strengths, and areas of expertise. Consider how you could use these to help various organizations further their missions. Cancer-related organizations provide many types of volunteer opportunities:

Service and support. These programs provide information and help people with cancer find ways to cope:  

  • Telephone hotlines—As a hotline counselor, you are trained to give easy-to-understand information over the telephone and lend support by listening to patients' concerns. Review our list of telephone and e-mail cancer helplines.

  • Cancer support groups—Cancer survivors and volunteer counselors lead support groups for people with cancer. Offer to co-lead or start your own cancer support group.

  • Cancer support programs—These programs offer emotional and practical support to patients and their families by providing needed items, such as wigs, scarves, breast forms, and books. Other types of support include help with medical referrals, legal services, and rides to medical appointments. Learn more about organizations that provide support buddies.

Awareness and education. Cancer organizations often need people to help raise awareness about cancer and educate others about cancer prevention and screening. This happens on the Internet and through workshops and presentations at schools, workplaces, and health fairs. Many also provide tips about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and follow-up care after treatment ends. Here's how you can help:

  • Learn how to teach a session about cancer at your workplace, community center, or place of worship.

  • Provide office services at your local cancer organization to help with event planning and logistics.

  • Join a committee that plans new educational programs.

Fundraising. Cancer organizations usually need to raise money to maintain services and programs for patients and their families. Consider participating in fundraising activities, such as races, golf tournaments, luncheons, dinners, plays, concerts, fashion shows, and auctions.

Advocacy. Being an advocate means supporting and speaking in favor of a specific cause. This involves supporting legislation that helps people with cancer and their families. Or, it may include speaking out about issues that affect people with cancer. You can also help lead a local or national effort to develop or change policies around access to health care or funding for research. Learn more about being a cancer advocate.

Finding volunteer opportunities

Here are some suggestions on finding volunteer opportunities in your community:

  • Tell your family, friends, coworkers, and health care providers that you want to get involved in cancer-related volunteer activities. Talk with them about your interests and ways you think you can help. Ask for their ideas about how you can volunteer.

  • Find out about local volunteer programs where you live. Contact your local hospital or cancer center, senior centers, associations, clubs, and places of worship to learn about their cancer volunteer programs. Ask how you can become involved.

  • Check your local newspaper, library, community center, and supermarket bulletin board for volunteer opportunities.

  • Contact a cancer-related group that interests you.

Helping people with cancer cope with everyday life

Keep in mind that you do not have to join an organization to make a difference in the life of someone with cancer. Sometimes, people find that the simple act of helping family members, friends, or acquaintances in the community with everyday tasks brings joy and satisfaction. Here are some ways to help:

  • Offer to bring a meal, run an errand, care for a pet, go to the supermarket, or do household or yard chores.

  • Help someone get ready for appointments by making a list of questions to ask the doctor.

  • Drive someone to their appointments and offer to wait and drive them home afterward.

  • Help someone find more information about his or her specific disease. The Guides to Cancer on Cancer.Net are a good place to start.

  • Offer to talk with someone who has a similar diagnosis about the treatment choices you made and why, if he or she is interested.

  • Use your experience to help patients feel comfortable talking about their concerns with their doctors.

  • Listen to and acknowledge someone’s concerns. Provide reassurance if you feel comfortable doing so.

More Information

Advocacy and Policy

Caregiving

Additional Resources

Conquer Cancer Foundation

American Cancer Society: Get Involved

National Cancer Institute: Facing Forward: Making a Difference in Cancer