Me and Ann Fonfa at her annual Annie Appleseed conference. Ann, a metastatic breast cancer survivor, started her organization to educate survivors on integrative and alternative cancer treatments. Ann doesn't earn a salary; just satisfaction from helping others.
“There’s tremendous power when you shift your perspective from a place of suffering to one of service. If you feel that you’ve ever been a victim in your life, it’s time to change that belief right now. When you look at all of your past hurts, big or small, as an opportunity to serve others, you’ll become a powerful creator.” – Michael J. Chase
I saw this quote on Facebook recently, and it struck me how true this has been for me even before I had cancer. My mom gave me one piece of good advice. It was when I was a teen and felt depressed. She suggested I go out and volunteer to get outside of myself and help others. I started volunteering at the local children’s hospital and have continued finding ways to serve to this day. Since being diagnosed in 2002, and especially since my stage IV diagnosis, my passion is serving other breast cancer survivors.
One thing I’ve learned is that you get back ten-fold what you give. It’s an endless circle. I receive; I give, and so on. I have been helped by so many people during this journey and have had the honor and privilege of helping others. I feel so blessed and connected. Yesterday one of my friends, who is also a cancer encourager and helper, asked me if I could talk with a women who was newly diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I immediately said yes.
As I spoke with this woman, I felt the spark of connection. She sounded so sad and stressed, and rightly so. Her husband left her right before her diagnosis, and she was left alone and with financial difficulties to boot. All I did was listen, share my experience and offer some resources and reason for hope. At the end of the conversation, she told me she felt better and was glad she spoke with me. That helped to dissipate some self-pity I was feeling that day over a family situation.
I remember when I was first diagnosed, how important it was to talk to someone who was further down the road I was and doing well. It meant everything to me. Now I can be that person to someone else. I believe that is what God put us on this earth to do, and it somehow brings some meaning to this disease.
Almost all the people featured in From Incurable to Incredible either started a cancer support organization or volunteer/fundraise for existing ones. I was so inspired by one of them, Jonny Imerman, that I became a volunteer mentor for his organization Imerman Angels . I see it in other circles other than cancer – when people face a tragedy and use it as an opportunity to help others.
I could argue that this sense of purpose that can actually keep people alive when all else fails. A Facebook friend, Shay Sharp, just posted a message from a woman who was getting ready to go into hospice, but is alive and well a year later. The woman’s husband said that she was so busy volunteering for , that she had no time to be sick! It kind of reminds me of a story Bernie Siegel, MD, tells about a gardener who Bernie thought would not make it but came in for a check-up years later. The gardener told him he was so busy “making the world beautiful,” that he had no time for illness.
The beauty of this is that anyone can benefit from the act of giving. It doesn’t have to take money or energy; it can be as simple as reaching out to someone and offering encouragement. By doing this, you can free yourself from the “victim mode” and become a “powerful creator.”
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