Making a Difference By Being a Volunteer

Once your become a breast cancer survivor, you may find it difficult to adjust back toward your life before breast cancer. Many women find that they have an enhanced sense of purpose when they give back by volunteering to help other breast cancer patients. This may include volunteering with a breast cancer support group, participating in a research study for survivors or working with a nonprofit group in the community that focuses on breast cancer patients.1

The Benefits of Volunteering

Most women have encounters with volunteers during their own journey with breast cancer, who were there to provide information, emotional support and practical advice. Once they become a breast cancer survivor, they remember how helpful these volunteers were and desire to help others as they were helped.

In a study of over 245 women who were in a program where breast cancer survivors worked with those recently diagnosed or were going through treatment for breast cancer, the following experiences were recorded.2

  • A common bond
  • Decreased feelings of isolation
  • Increases optimism for the future
  • Increased reassurance that their feelings were normal

Volunteering may allow you to try new activities, develop new skills and gain a better appreciation for all of your talents. Most volunteer organizations are looking for assistance and are typically quite flexible with scheduling and allow you to discover where your interests are. Many volunteers start out with just a few hours a month until they find something that they are interested in doing, where they end up spending many more hours per month if possible. Find out what volunteer opportunities are available in your and narrow them down to determine what suits you best.

Start a Volunteer Program

Although many areas of the United States and other countries have well developed breast cancer support groups, there are still areas where volunteer programs are desperately needed. If you live in or are near one of these areas, you may want to consider starting your own program. Contact your nearest cancer society or organization and they may be able to help get started. Work with a local business, church, community organization or hospitals to see if your efforts can be combined.

Another volunteer opportunity is to become a patient advocate. This is a great option if you cannot spend much time outside of the home but are able to write, make phone calls, provide information or send emails to breast cancer patients. You will make more of a difference in the personal lives of some patients, as they realize that they are not alone…just as you were never alone.

Research Studies for Survivors!

If you are active in a breast cancer support group, this is a great way to find out about different research studies or clinical trials in which you might be interested in participating. Typically this kind of study investigates the treatment experiences of breast cancer survivors in order to improve the experiences of current or future patients.3 The desire to contribute to increasing knowledge and understanding of all aspects of breast cancer is a driving factor for people that participate in these kinds of studies. You did not ask to be diagnosed with breast cancer. But your experience and ability to survive may help others join you as a breast cancer survivor.


1 American Cancer Society. (2004). A Breast Cancer Journey: Your Personal Guidebook. Atlanta: American Cancer Society.

2 Dunn, J., Steginga, S. K., Occhipinti, S., & Wilson, K. (1999). Evaluation of a peer support program for women with breast cancer—lessons for practitioners. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology , 13-22.

3 Daugherty, C. K., Fitchett, G., Murphy, P. E., et al. (2005). Trusting God and medicine: Spirituality in advanced cancer patients volunteering for clinical trials of experimental agents. Psycho-Oncology , 135-146.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.