Giving Back: Helping Others & Healing Yourself

Written By Charmaine Silva

Editor’s note: On May 9, ELLICSR hosted For Me With Me: A Forum for People Affected by Cancer. We invited people who’ve been impacted by cancer to come share their experience, learn from others what helped them, and work with us to begin to revolutionize the cancer experience. Late in the morning, we broke into smaller groups to share experiences and build a toolkit to help others. ELLICSR bloggers sat in on each session. Here’s what they experienced.

Image of picture collage
One of the collages made by a participant
at For Me With Me.

What does ‘giving back’ mean? How does a cancer survivor give back? At For Me With Me, everyone at the breakout session called ‘Give back’ agreed that they didn’t want to see another patient face the same challenges that they did. That’s why they want to give back.

The discussion went deeper than I had expected. Giving back is a way of helping others and that’s what everyone in our group said motivated them. But throughout the discussion it became very clear that giving back can also be a way of connecting with yourself. The people around the table realized that they actually benefited from giving back as well. Helping others takes you out of the spotlight, allowing you to be more open. In doing so, you may open yourself up to vulnerability, but also the opportunity to delve deeper into your thoughts and feelings. Scary? Maybe. But everyone agreed that it was a great way to get to know themselves again.

Most of us like our lives to be organized and chaos-free. This idea came to the forefront when the group was asked to write a letter about giving back. One person asked if there was any lined paper instead of the blank sheets we provided. There is a sense of control when you can write within the lines. Another person at the table commented that life in general became disorganized and out of control the moment she heard “you’ve got cancer.” After hearing those words, “you don’t feel like you’re making your own decisions and your life doesn’t feel like yours anymore.” I wondered how vulnerable and exposed people must feel during their cancer journey. How scary must ¬it must be when you feel there is nothing to do except hope that the treatment worked?

What amazed me the most was how willing everyone was to tell their story as many times as needed, especially if it meant it would help someone going through a similar experience. To them, it was important that others know “You are more than your cancer,” and “I had cancer, but the cancer doesn’t have me.”