It is fitting that we end April, Volunteer Appreciation Month, with a final blog in our Healing Through Hobbies blog series on volunteering.
The health benefits of volunteering are numerous: it counteracts the effect of stress, anger, and anxiety, combats depression, makes you happy, increases self-confidence, and gives you a sense of purpose. Volunteering connects you with others, expanding your social network and your ties to your community.
Firefly Sisterhood exists because women who have been through breast cancer volunteer as Guides, lighting the way forward for other women recently diagnosed. They are the true heroes of Firefly Sisterhood. Read why they volunteer, how it impacts their lives, and local resources for you and your family to get out and volunteer:
- “I began mentoring women through breast cancer because an acquaintance did it for me and she is now a good friend. I started doing that as a ‘pay it forward’ and out of gratitude. After a cancer retreat, I started a cancer support group at my church to fill the need for survivors to connect. After 16+ years of encouraging others, I decided to formalize that commitment and trained to be a Firefly Guide. Each relationship has been different, but it is fulfilling for me to help other women recently diagnosed with breast cancer.”
- “Firefly Sisterhood keeps me grateful. I have been blessed in my journey with breast cancer. Remembering what I needed at the time of diagnosis and treatment reminds me of why I choose to volunteer. Then…I needed someone to simply listen. Then…I needed to know I had the strength to do what I chose to be done. Then…I needed to hear the experience of others and their stories of hope. I am forever grateful for my own recovery and the opportunity to listen, and to share my story.”
- “I decided to volunteer after following Firefly Sisterhood for a few years. I was always interested in the work they did, but didn’t think I had anything to offer at that time. Well I’m coming up on ten years cancer-free and I realize that I do have something to offer. I meet some amazing women whose advice helped me immensely and I wanted to pass that on. I also learned a lot about myself during this time and am willing to share my journey with other women.”
- “Once my physical healing from my double mastectomy was complete, I signed up for Guide training. When we had to introduce ourselves at that training, I had an unexpected emotional melt down from finally – finally – being around people who could deal with hearing the word “cancer.” Being a Firefly Guide is deeply rewarding. I get to extend love, compassion, empathy, and understanding to another woman in one-to-one conversations focused completely on her needs and concerns. Those conversations allow many latent fears and concerns to bubble up to the surface and be openly discussed, providing both a psychological release and relief. When breast cancer becomes part of your identity, speaking with another person who understands what that entails, is a gift beyond measure. That’s why I’m a Firefly Sisterhood Guide.”
- “Welcome to the club I hoped you’d never join,” said my dear, close colleague when we met the day after I’d gotten my prognosis and treatment plan from my oncologist. This friend had had almost the same diagnosis 15 years before, and within a few minutes, we were laughing together about a world where surgery, 20 weeks of chemo, and 6 weeks of radiation was good news. I had not only her support in my journey but that of my sister-in-law, who is a 28-year survivor. I knew how lucky I was to have such built-in support, so I volunteered to pass on to others the support that comes from being able to ask questions and share concerns with someone who has lived the journey. I’ve been back to the wig store with my Firefly Sister, texted before, during and after chemo, and hope that I’ve helped this first “match” through this crazy journey.”
- “I have come to the realization that we all spend most of our life feeling very strong and as though we don’t need help. That feeling can change in a heartbeat. I found that out when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I needed help and support. I luckily had the support of several wonderful volunteers as I waded through the treatment. I knew as I recovered that I needed to “pay it forward” by volunteering to offer the same support that I had received. The joy that I feel when I can help someone else feeds my soul. I feel blessed that I have this opportunity, and I have learned so much from each person that I have supported. Volunteering has offered me a chance to expand my world and my knowledge.”
- “I volunteer one day a week at the very same clinic I went to so I know how the routine goes and understand that getting a “call back” from the technicians (because someone “saw something” on an x-ray) can be very worrisome. My goal is to put the patients first, ensure that they feel welcome and comfortable, getting their robes and coffee/tea for them, and ensuring that family members who accompanied them have up-to-date information about their loved one. It’s a great opportunity to interact with doctors, nurses, technicians and staff who care for those, with and without breast cancer, on a daily basis. I like to think I am “giving back” and providing a friendly face to other women who are getting their yearly exams. It shows that even a small gesture like offering someone a cup of tea can be soothing.”
- “There are certain things I have to do- go to work, clean the house, fold laundry, make dinner. My cancer diagnosis adds additional “must do” items to that list- infusions, injections, doctor visits, and scans- that take up even more time on my calendar. So when I have free time, it is important to me to be using it in a way that is completely my choice. I think it is this “choice aspect” that makes volunteering special to me. I can choose to be involved with people, and a cause, that is important to me. I am choosing to make a difference for someone else. I am choosing activities that use my existing skill set in new ways, but also allow me to try things, so I am continually learning. The organizations I currently volunteer with allow me to be socially and civically involved in my community. Some of these activities are a way for me to say “thank you” to a group that has helped me in the past, and other activities are a way for me to help make a situation better for others. Cancer has the potential to take so many things away- mobility, energy, privacy, self-confidence, time… the few hours a month I can set aside for volunteer activities is something I always look forward to, knowing that I’ll come away feeling I’ve done something worthwhile that will be appreciated by others. And that is something that cancer can’t take away from me.
Looking to volunteer in the Twin Cities? Check out these sites:
- Hands-On Twin Cities: a website that matches you, your interests, and your availability with opportunities around the metro area and beyond.
- Doing Good Together: a website that shares family-friendly volunteer opportunities around the metro areas, especially great for families that have young children that want to volunteer.
Cancer Specific Places to Volunteer:
- Hope Lodge Minneapolis: provides a place to stay for cancer patients and a caregiver during active treatment. Volunteering opportunities abound, from hosting bingo to making lattes, to fixing beds, and more!
- Gilda’s Club Twin Cities: supports people impacted by cancer. Volunteer opportunities include teaching classes, leading groups, welcoming visitors, and more!
- Open Arms of Minnesota: volunteer to help cook and deliver nutritious meals to people with a life-threatening illness (such as cancer).
- Ronald McDonald House: housing for children with life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, treatment. Many opportunities to make a difference for young cancer survivors.
- American Cancer Society: Many ways to volunteer with those going through cancer.
Other Healing Through Hobbies Blogs/Podcasts in this series:
- Healing Through Hobbies: Art
- Healing Through Hobbies: Gardening
- Healing Through Yoga: a Podcast
- Healing Through Hobbies: Writing
- Healing Through Hobbies Blog Resources and Reflection
Compiled by Amy Tix, Firefly staffer and firm believer that volunteering benefits the one being helped as much as the one doing the helping!