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Cancer Patients Help Themselves, Others

CancerWise - December 2007

Cancer can seem overwhelming, and it's easy, sometimes even necessary, to focus on yourself. But when treatment is over and your recovery is complete, reaching out and helping someone might be one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Benefits of service

Volunteering may help cancer patients be healthier and lower stress levels. In fact, research has shown that volunteers live longer. They frequently report a "helper's high," similar to the rush felt by people during exercise.

Helping others also can:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Expand your network of friends and contacts
  • Decrease feelings of loneliness

Volunteer options abound

Lots of options are out there, but all volunteer opportunities are not created equal.

To get more from volunteering, choose an activity that:

  • Gives you personal contact, such as:
    • Visiting a senior center
    • Reading to children
  • Establishes a long-term, one-on-one connection
  • Feels enjoyable

Almost every nonprofit and community organization has volunteering opportunities. In many areas, volunteer database services match volunteers with opportunities. The Volunteer Center National Network sponsors a website ( to help you find options in your area.

In helping others, don't neglect yourself.

To guard against burnout:

  • Start gradually and don't over commit
  • Learn to say "no" if you are tired or pressed for time
  • Find another opportunity if you are not enjoying it
  • Don't feel guilty if you can't give much time
  • Be proud of yourself for helping others

A little kindness means a lot

Even if you don't have time or energy to make a regular commitment to volunteering, you can still help make a positive difference in a person's day.

Simple ways to help others:

  • Send a small, anonymous gift to a friend
  • Open the door for a friend or stranger
  • Smile and say "hello" to others
  • Send a thank-you note to a friend
  • Give an earnest compliment
  • Offer to baby-sit a friend's young children

Whatever you do, remember that focusing on others goes a long way toward re-entering the world post-treatment, and it feels good.

– Adapted by Dawn Dorsey from a publication by M. D. Anderson's Patient Education Office

M. D. Anderson resources:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center