Hearing the words “You have invasive breast cancer.” changed my life forever. I remember little from that first conversation except asking my doctor, “Am I going to die?”
Dealing with cancer or a devastating loss—like losing a loved one or suddenly finding yourself out of job—is traumatic; it derails your life. You are no longer in control. The illness or loss takes precedence and everything else fades into the background. However, at some point you must get your life back on track.
Volunteering helped me take back my life. It made me feel empowered and gave me the impetus I needed to take up my post-cancer life. Today, I am grateful to be alive and able to share my story with you in hopes that it may help you if you are struggling to take back your life after suffering a terrible illness or personal loss.
Losing Control of My Life
As a person used to managing my own schedule and making my own decisions, I was shocked at how quickly I completely lost control over my life.
Medical receptionists were in charge of my daily schedule. They told me when and where to show up for doctor visits, diagnostic procedures, infusions (chemotherapy), surgery, and radiation treatments. Trying to make plans around medical appointments was futile because I never knew how I would be feeling tomorrow, let alone next week.
My own body had seemingly turned against me by getting cancer in the first place. Now it was determining which side effects I would have, what I could or could not eat, and how far I could walk on any given day. My routine of walking an hour a day did not last long as chemotherapy sapped my energy. Walking for 5 or 10 minutes or taking a shower became a major accomplishment.
Being a cancer patient affected my state of mind. I felt like I was on a runaway train going to an unknown destination with danger lurking around every bend. Fear, self-pity, and anger were my constant companions. My world shrank. Making it through the day became my mission. I could not believe this was my life. Unfortunately, it was.
After a horrific yearlong journey, I was cancer free. Rejoicing to be alive, I thought, “Now I can get back to my life!” The hard part was figuring out how to get started.
Taking Back My Life through Volunteering
My work, this website and blog, beckoned, but I was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of trying to pick up where I had left off. I thrashed about trying to get my footing. Then, on a February evening during a meeting in my living room, a solution presented itself.
The meeting was for Ecologistics, an environmental and social justice not-for-profit organization. Ecologistics brings people together to learn, share ideas, and take action to ensure that life on Earth can continue for people and all other living creatures.
I saw a chance to deploy my business and project management skills in service of this organization and volunteered to fulfill two Board of Director positions: Secretary and Treasurer.
Soon I was knee deep in preparing meeting minutes, analyzing financial documents, and learning QuickBooks. I took on banking, writing the e-newsletter, and managing the development of our new website. Instead of worrying about things like, “When will my hair grow back?” or, “I wonder if I will be able to hike up a mountain again?” I found myself thinking about how to streamline and tighten up our financial processes or tracking web site development tasks to make sure we could make our go-live date.
Volunteering is Empowering
My efforts directly contributed to timely and accurate meeting minutes, smooth-running financial processes, a $1,000 grant award, an updated e-newsletter format, and a new website. Though I did not do this all by myself, Ecologistics has benefited from my work.
I received an unexpected benefit myself. By using my skills and experience in service of an organization aligned with my beliefs, volunteering gave me a feeling of empowerment.
After spending several months with the pedal to the metal working for Ecologistics, I slowly realized that I was already well on the way to taking back my life and adapting to life after cancer. I am ready to push the restart button on Green Groundswell and continue my mission of convincing other unlikely environmentalists like me to live more gently on the Earth and keep it habitable for all.
Volunteering Can Help You Too
For those of you struggling to get your life back on track, consider volunteering. There are thousands of not-for-profit organizations and community groups doing good things. They need your passion, talents, and knowledge.
Everyone has something to offer. Can you bake delicious chocolate chip cookies? Drop off a batch for a group of activists spending all day Saturday in a planning meeting. Are you a whiz at Excel spreadsheets? Help an organization create and track a budget for the first time. Do you enjoy meeting and talking to new people? Sign up to staff a booth or table at an event. Are you good at speaking in front of a large group of people? Offer to emcee an event or give a presentation for a group you admire. Do you have a green thumb? Volunteer at a community garden.
Pick a cause you care about and volunteer to do something. Through helping others you can help yourself, too.
Inspire other people by sharing your own volunteering empowerment story.