Anal cancer survivor: Why I volunteer through myCancerConnection

When I was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2009, I didn’t know anyone who had ever had the disease. So I was frightened, confused and didn’t know what to expect. And though I had family and friends cheering me on, I desperately needed to talk to someone who had gone through the same thing.

That’s why I vowed to volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community, after I finished treatment. I knew that I had been given a gift. And it was very important to me to pay it forward. I was too overwhelmed at the time of my diagnosis to take advantage of myCancerConnection myself, but I didn’t want others to have to experience the same sense of isolation that I had.

What cancer patients need

In the years leading up to my own diagnosis, I’d lost several friends and family members to cancer. And I recall thinking at the time that I understood what they were going through. But after I was diagnosed, I realized that I had no clue.

People who are diagnosed with cancer need a safe space to express their fears. They need to know it’s OK to be afraid. They need hope. They need to be inspired to find the courage to get through it. And they need to know someone “gets it.”

myCancerConnection fills those needs by matching up people based on their diagnoses and other similarities. Cancer patients and survivors have an instant bond, even if they’re meeting for the first time. And just being able to talk honestly with someone who has walked in your shoes can make such a difference.

Sharing the good, the bad and the ugly

I joined myCancerConnection in 2012. And over the past six years, I’ve been matched with numerous anal cancer patients. It has been such a rewarding experience. The feedback I get just reinforces that I am doing what I need to be doing.

In me, patients have someone who can share the good, the bad and the ugly of treatment, as well as the emotional and physical side effects. My nine-year survivorship gives them hope. And knowing what to expect helps them tremendously. They don’t feel taken by surprise.

The best part of volunteering: making new friends

The best part is that many of the people I’ve talked to have also become my friends. So when they ask if they can call me again, my answer is always yes. And many do.

Some just want support while going through treatment. Others are still in touch with me today. We share milestone victories: the joy of seeing a first grandchild born or just how blessed we are.

The joy of helping others is indescribable. That’s why I feel so honored to volunteer with myCancerConnection. Because if we are not on this Earth to help and serve others, then I don’t know why we’re here.

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