Coping With Emotions

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Mentor: Sharing Your Experience With Others Going Through It

Being available to answer questions and provide encouragement for other people with cancer can also help you move beyond your own cancer experience.

A cancer diagnosis and its treatment is a life-changing experience, and often people look for a way to make meaning from what they’ve gone through. One way is to use the experience and knowledge you gained through your own treatment to become a cancer mentor for others who have been diagnosed.

This isn’t so much about the medical knowledge — the doctors and nurses are there for that — but everything else. How do you tell your boss and coworkers you have cancer? How do you tell your kids? How do you hold your baby after a mastectomy? When your husband is Mr. Fix It, how do you help him deal with the fact that he can’t fix your cancer? How do you care for your bald head?

Doctors can help heal your body, but cancer impacts every part of life. Once you’ve been through that, you are uniquely qualified to help others manage those issues. Your experience provides an ability to empathize that goes beyond what others may be able to offer.

Connect With a Cancer Support Group

Support groups are often volunteer run, and usually in need of more volunteers. The easiest way to help those who are undergoing cancer treatment is to participate in a support group and offer encouragement to those who are there. You could also let people in the group know you are willing to be a contact they can call if they’re worried or need someone to talk to one-on-one.

Become a Cancer Research Advocate

Research and advocacy organizations need advocates who have been through treatment to help them perform the mission of their organization. There are a wide range of organizations that offer assistance to patients, or help to inform research to prevent, treat or find a cure for cancer. Some of these organizations also provide extensive training for those interested in advocacy work. For instance, the National Breast Cancer Coalition offers Project LEAD, which provides people who have gone through cancer treatment with training that can help them review research proposals, educate the public about breast cancer issues and serve on decision-making boards.

Write About Your Experience

What did you most want to read about when you were diagnosed with cancer? If you had questions, there’s a good chance someone else has those questions as well. Those diagnosed with cancer may want to read the story of someone else who went through this and how they made it through. Your story matters, and not just to you and your loved ones — your story can give other people hope.

There are many ways you can share your story. The internet makes it easy to share with a website or blog. You can also join Facebook groups for people who have been through cancer and share your story among group members, or join online support groups and help answer questions posted on bulletin boards. You could even write a memoir, or submit your writing to an online or print magazine.

These opportunities to give back as a cancer mentor not only help others, but can be healing for you as well. Helping someone else though an experience you just endured can be cathartic and help you bridge your way back to your new life after cancer.

UVA Cancer Center offers support groups where you can share your experience and provide emotional support to others.

Learn More
Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley