Volunteer for breast cancer: Six ways you can start today!



I’ve been fortunate in the last month to be blessed with some really good circumstances: a relocation to a new city with great opportunities, employment in a situation that lets me blend the two things that I’m most interested in (science and writing), and the welcome surprise of moving into a great apartment that me, my husband, and my two parrots love.

My family has always instilled in me the sense of giving back when one has been so blessed, so in that spirit of giving, I signed up today to be a volunteer at my local hospital. Incidentally, my local hospital happens to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic, America’s #1 Best Hospital for cancer treatment according to the 2007 US News & World Report. My orientation session is this Friday, and I’m really excited to start. . . and I’d like you to come and join me as a new volunteer!

Why volunteer?

* Volunteer because you or someone you know has cancer

I have one aunt who is a survivor of breast cancer and one close friend who is battling a particularly rare form of uterine cancer. I’m sure you know someone, too. Even though deaths due to cancer are now on the decline, the physical and emotional impact of each new diagnosis is huge.

* Volunteer your time because as a current patient, survivor, friend or family member of a cancer patient, you know what the face of cancer looks like.

Volunteering helps you invest in your community. Call it “The Golden Rule,” an exercise in spirituality, karma coming back to you, or whatever you want — giving back to the place where you live makes your community a better place. The benefit that you give to a place isn’t just in measured in dollars, but in a sense of pride. And who doesn’t want to be part of a community that they’re proud of?

* Volunteering gives legs to the existence of hundreds of non-profit organizations.

They educate about prevention and early detection, they help current patients through financial and emotional support, and they fund a huge number medical and scientific advances in research through grants. However, non-profit organization organizations can’t exist without volunteers to spread their message. Find an organization you can get behind, and volunteer your time. It can really make a difference.

* Volunteering can give you a chance to meet new people.

As mentioned before, I’ve recently moved to a new town. Since I telecommute, I don’t often get a chance to talk to that many people face-to-face. By signing up as a volunteer at my local hospital, I get the chance to interact with other volunteers, patients and their loved ones, and health care professionals. It’s a win-win situation!

* Volunteering can help you learn new skills.

I tend to be a behind-the-scenes organizer in my work life, but volunteering often forces me to take the reigns and lead in ways I never thought I could.  After my first year of graduate school, I took time off to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer. I spent the first three months getting a crash course in developing, organizing, and implementing an after-school enrichment program for elementary school students. Spending day after day hiring tutors, working with teachers to develop curriculum, creating class schedules, and recruiting high school volunteers, I often joked that having a highly specialized background in genetics didn’t give me many useful skills. Luckily as a volunteer, I learned a lot “on the job.” A self-proclaimed geeky introvert, I was forced to work outside my comfort level when I had to speak to parents, comfort agitated children, and hustle for donations. I honed skills in public speaking, working with children, and grant writing — things that I would never have encountered in graduate school. Incidentally, I also learned that working with children was not the best fit for someone who thrives in calm and quiet environments and I promptly went back to graduate school after my service term. Still, it was a good lesson learned!

Want to start volunteering your time?

There are plenty of organizations out there that are looking for people like you. Many of these places will allow you to sign up online to volunteer for direct patient interaction, clerical help, organizational skills, ability to participate in educational aspects, and other opportunities. In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’ve compiled a list of organizations focused on breast cancer that are currently looking for volunteers.

1. Local Cancer Clinics / Hospitals: Contact your local cancer clinic and ask for their Volunteer Services department.  The National Cancer Institute has a listing of cancer clinics in the US state by state. A list of cancer hospitals in Canada is also available online.

2. The National Breast Cancer Foundation: The NBCF Mission is “to save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need.” The NBCF has partnerships some of America’s major cancer clinics, including The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, The Taussig Cancer Center at The Cleveland Clinic, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore. Contact the National Breast Cancer Foundation to see if there’s a site near you.

3. The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer: In 2006, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer series raised nearly $70 million dollars dispersed throughout all 50 states in America. According to their website:

Funds raised through the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer event series are managed by the Avon Foundation, an accredited 501(c)(3) charity, to advance access to care and finding a cure for breast cancer. The Avon Foundation supports a virtual national network of research, medical, social service and community-based organizations, each of which is making a unique contribution to helping patients or advancing breast cancer research.

The Avon Foundation awards funding in breast cancer education and awareness; screening and diagnosis; access to treatment; support services; and scientific research into the possible cause, prevention, treatment and cure.

2007/2008 walks are scheduled in nine major cities in the US, including Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City. Thousands of volunteers all throughout the year to provide office support, host participant outreach nights, lead introduction meeting and other tasks. Register to be a volunteer at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer website.

4. The American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society has multiple branches in each state. Not specific to breast cancer, it aims to “empower and mobilize communities to prevent cancer, save lives, and diminish suffering by distinguishing the Society as the organization of choice for meaningful volunteer engagement.” A significant portion of funds raised by the American Cancer Society goes straight back into research initiatives. Almost every cancer research laboratory that I’ve worked in has had at funding at some point by the American Cancer Society, so I can personally assure you that the money is well spent.

Volunteers can fill out applications at the American Cancer Society volunteer page.

5. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation: The CBCF is a grass-roots organization with a vision to create a future without breast cancer. Volunteers assist in a range of activities that include everything from answering phones, to making pink ribbons, to organizing community Run for the Cure fund-raisers. Money raised by the CFCB goes to funding research, education initiatives, and awareness programs.

Sign up today to be a volunteer at the CBCF website.

6. Rethink Breast Cancer: This is a Canadian charity that focuses specifically on women under 40 both with and without breast cancer. Money raised by Rethink Breast Cancer goes to education, research, and support programs. Unlike many organizations, research money is focused on finding young investigators in breast cancer research for longer periods.

Interested in volunteering? Visit Rethink Breast Cancer’s volunteer page.

Are you currently volunteering working with cancer foundations? Battling Cancer wants to know why and how you started donating your time. Use the “Submit your Story” tab at the top of the page or leave it here in the comments and I’ll highlight the best stories in a future post!

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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