Making a Difference

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2018

People who have dealt with cancer firsthand often want to support others with cancer. Whether you are a cancer survivor or care for someone with cancer, you have valuable experience that can help others. Becoming a volunteer makes a difference in a person’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. They also say it helps them build new friendships and widens their support network.

Getting started

Once you have decided to become a volunteer, think about your interests, strengths, and areas of expertise. Consider how you could use these to help organizations with their missions. Cancer groups provide many ways for someone to volunteer:

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 the concerns of people with cancer. 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 people with cancer and their families. They may provide 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 and educate others about cancer prevention and screening. They may also provide tips about having a healthy lifestyle and follow-up care after treatment ends. This may take place through presentations at schools, workplaces, and health fairs. Or this may happen online. 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.

  • Join a committee that plans new educational programs.

Fundraising. Cancer organizations usually need to raise money to maintain services and programs for people with cancer and their families. Consider getting involved in fundraising activities, such as races, golf tournaments, luncheons, dinners, plays, concerts, fashion shows, and auctions. You might also consider donating money to cancer research.

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

If you are interested in the science of cancer, you can become a research advocate. Research advocates help scientists focus on issues that are most important to a diverse group of people with cancer. Opportunities include participating in grant review panels, research policy discussions, and clinical research groups. Many organizations offer in-person and online training on becoming a research advocate. Learn more about being a cancer advocate.

Finding volunteer opportunities

Here are ways to find volunteer opportunities in your local area:

  • 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 may want to help. Ask for their ideas about how you can volunteer.

  • Find out about local volunteer programs where you live. Contact your local hospital, cancer center, associations, and places of worship to learn about their cancer volunteer programs. Ask how you can become involved. You can also look for announcements in your local newspaper, library, and community center. Or check the social media sites of organizations in your community.

  • Contact a cancer-related group that interests you.

  • Find advocacy programs that are sponsored by local and federal government organizations, such as cancer control groups, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Cancer Institute. Professional organizations such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association of Cancer Research may also have advocacy programs of their own.

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 members of their community with daily tasks brings joy and satisfaction. Here are some things you can do:

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

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

  • Drive someone to and from appointments.

  • Help someone find more information about his or her specific disease.

  • Offer to talk with someone who has a similar diagnosis about the treatment choices you made and why. But remember that all people have a unique experience with cancer. Your goal should be to focus on the newly diagnosed person rather than your own experience.

  • Use your experience to help people with cancer feel comfortable talking about their concerns with their health care team. Consider offering to join them for a doctor’s visit or treatment session.

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

Related Resources

Advocacy and Policy


What Can I Donate to Help People With Cancer?

More Information

American Cancer Society: Get Involved

The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO

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