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You’ve just had your results and you’ve been told that you need treatment. Whether that’s removing abnormal cells at colposcopy or more invasive treatment for cancer, it can all feel pretty scary and you’re likely to be keeping your world small. “What will happen to me?”, “How will I cope?”, “How do I tell my loved ones?” It’s a time to focus on you, on your health and any plans you need to make. For many, this is a time for family and friends.
And yet, in your search for support or answers, you may stumble across our online forum or a support group and meet others going through something similar. One of the reasons I love our Let’s Meet event is that it is often the first time many women have met another person affected by cervical cancer. It’s an incredibly powerful and empowering experience. To be in a room or a virtual online space with other people who know what a pair of stirrups looks like, who know what it feels like to hear those same words you did and who understands the waiting. You can visibly see the experience having an effect on women. It’s relief.
And then something really magical starts to happen. A ripple of empathy, understanding and comradeship. Details are exchanged, coffees scheduled, support becomes mutual. It begins to feel good to help others, to be the supporter not the supportee. It can be a welcome break from thinking about a rubbish day, an anxious check up or the 5th round of chemo.
You may make new friends, some will inspire you. Maybe to others, you are the inspiration. As time passes you no longer post the first message in a thread looking for help, instead you’re responding to the worries midnight messages of others, you ask how hospital appointments went, wonder if scan results are in and become the strength, the support or the shoulder that is needed.
You start to feel empowered, you’re making a difference to the lives of other women. Maybe you wonder what else you can do, start to believe you can do more, want to do more. And there begins the beating heart of a volunteer.
For some physical rehabilitation or the celebration of a treatment milestone might result in the desire to help being channelled into a drive to get fit, to take on a challenge, to try something new. These are often our fundraisers. They’ve read our information or used our support services and feel passionate about helping us extend our support. Even more than that, they want to prevent as many women as possible from getting this wretched theft of a disease. ‘You’re not going to take one more of us!’ is their battle cry.
The desire to prevent more diagnoses may lead to distributing leaflets at work, sharing personal stories with the media, writing blogs and social media posts or securing meetings to talk about what a local MP is doing about cervical cancer prevention. Speaking out, using words and voices.
For others, there’s an unstoppable desire to support others. To use new skills to make sure that no woman should have to go through all of this alone, whether that’s a first smear test or dealing with the words no one wants to hear. The thought that someone out there is going through something that they did, and that they can help them feel less isolated is all they need. It almost feels like a calling. These people become our support services volunteers and providing support often becomes another stage in their recovery process.
Volunteering is a powerful tool. It isn’t for everyone, but it can be an incredible outlet or resource with one study reporting on its ability to improve “self-rated health, mental health, life satisfaction, the ability to carry out activities of daily living without functional impairment, social support and interaction, healthy behaviours and the ability to cope with one’s own illness.”
Whoever you are, whatever your experience and whether you can spare five minutes or five hours, we have tons of opportunities for volunteering. From taking shifts on our helpline or helping in the office to holding an awareness event or helping at a bucket collection, we will support you at every step. And to everyone who has or currently volunteers for us, we can’t thank you enough.