Thursday, 1 June 2017

Volunteers Week 2017 - Why You Should Consider Volunteering

"The greatest gift you can give is your time because when you give your time you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back"

In October 2017  I will be marking seven years as a volunteer for Cancer Research UK. In that time I have been part of some incredible things and have had some of my proudest moments. But the defining part of my life as a volunteer is the amazing people I have been able to meet and get to know. The people I now call my friends. The people I call my volunteer family.

It's no secret to those that know me that volunteering for Cancer Research UK is one of my favourite aspects of my life. I meet incredible people and do incredible things on a weekly basis. I am challenged, I am inspired and I am frequently left in awe of the people I get to meet. I openly admit that if I ever won a significant amount of money I would leave full time employment and volunteer for the charity on a full time basis.

The charity have tens of thousands of volunteers. Most of them are like me; willing to donate large portions of their spare time to the cause we believe in. My spare time is precious, I don't have a lot of it. I genuinely have to believe in something and really want to do it if I'm going to drag myself away from the sofa to do it. Whenever I meet a new volunteer and they ask for tips I always say the same thing "once you've volunteered for one thing, you'll become slightly obsessed and find yourself volunteering more and more" that is true. I started out as just an ambassador. Now I volunteer to help at events like Race for Life, I've spoken at volunteers conferences and various other things.

When I first started volunteering my mum was really worried. I have been surrounded by cancer for almost my whole life. I’ve lost many people. I’ve experienced much sadness and loss at the hands of cancer. She couldn’t understand why I would want to be associated with the subject in such a full on sort of way. At first I couldn’t understand why but gradually I came to realise that my mum was worried that I would develop attachments to people who would eventually pass away and make the hole in my heart caused by all the loss even bigger. The truth is my mum was right about this.

I had known Dawn Green for many many years. There are not enough words to describe how wonderful this lady was. In 2008 Dawn was diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP).

Pseudomyxoma Peritonei is a very rare type of cancer that usually begins in your appendix as a small growth, called a polyp. Or, more rarely, it can start in other parts of the bowel, the ovary or bladder. This polyp eventually spreads through the wall of your appendix and spreads cancerous cells to the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). These cancerous cells produce mucus, which collects in the abdomen as a jelly like fluid called mucin.

Dawn was given just three months to live and the cancer was so rare that her doctors didn’t know much about it at all. Whilst fighting the disease Dawn noticed a distinct lack of emotional support for people fighting this form of cancer.

Dawn decided to set up a charity to help others in her situation. Pseudomyxoma Survivor aims to provide emotional support for anyone dealing with this type of cancer and to prevent anyone feeling alone or isolated during their fight against the disease.

Dawn put PMP on the map. She worked tirelessly for those suffering. She raised money, she raised awareness, she helped everyone she could across the world. How she did it I will never know as most of the time she was struggling to survive the illness herself. She had major major operations and each time I held my breath waiting for the news that she hadn’t made it. But she defied the odds time and time again. I got used to this.

Dawn was a funny, kind, crazy, caring, interesting woman. She was a mum with so much fierce love for her two girls and her dog. She was an amazing friend. She was simply one of the best, and most inspirational, people I ever had the honour of meeting. The world is emptier without her. A sadder place. There is definitely a hole without Dawn for many people, myself included. I really hope she is at peace and reunited with her beloved Dad now.

So yes, my mum was right; my heart is at risk of more sadness by being involved with Cancer Research UK. But I really wouldn’t have it any other way. The people I have met are my friends, they provide me with inspiration. They look out for me. They make me laugh. They make me want to do more to help others. They hold a very special place in my heart. For Dawn we will keep on at Cancer and we will carry on helping others just like she did, hopefully with the same humour, passion and kindness she displayed to those that knew and loved her.

If you've ever considered donating some time to a cause then I can hand on heart recommend Cancer Research UK. The charity hugely appreciates their volunteers and go out of their way to make you feel informed, inspired and important. You'll meet people who will hopefully become good friends and you'll come away feeling like you've really made a difference.

There are many ways to volunteer:
Cancer Campaigns Ambassador - We ambassadors are a group of passionate supporters working hard to help CRUK effectively influence politicians, engage the local media in their campaigns and try to help them save lives. Our stories, experiences and passion have become one of CRUK’s most powerful campaigning tools and are vital part of their work.

As an ambassador the activities are varied and interesting:
* Communication with local politicians and parliamentary representatives; flagging up our campaign issues and persuading them to back us and take positive action on our behalf.
* Engaging with our local and regional press; securing coverage for our campaigns and raising awareness in our local area.
* Lobbying for specific cancer related campaigns.
I cannot find words big enough to describe how amazing I find my fellow ambassadors. We have formed a close group and we support, encourage and work together to make a real difference. It is a true honour to count myself as part of this inspiring group of people. If this sounds like something you might be interested in then I can promise you would be welcomed with open arms :)

Volunteering at an event- I  have volunteered at Race for Life a few times and it was brilliant. The atmosphere is always buzzing and the people I meet are infectious in their enthusiasm. There is also Shine, as well as Relay for Life and various other events such as marathons etc... These volunteer roles are perfect if you don't fancy partaking in a sports event but would like to be part of the atmosphere and support those taking part.

Volunteering in a shop- I'm really keen to get my grandad volunteering in one of the CRUK shops as I worry about him getting bored at home now he's retired. I've never met a CRUK shop volunteer who wasn't friendly, helpful and chatty. They are lovely people. This type of role would be perfect if you have a few hours to kill during the working day and would like to get yourself out of the house for a few hours! 

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the types of volunteering positions available with the charity. For more information you should take a look here:

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