We all struggle with our sense of identity once the cancer is over. We know we’re not the same as we used to be, no matter how much other people may want us to be. But we may also be at a loss to figure out who we are.
I want to tell you about one very brave and incredibly inspiring woman (and a dear friend) who’s doing something truly unique to rediscover herself: She’s traveling around the world to volunteer. That’s right. To help others, and thereby help herself.
Cancer is Over, but Things Aren’t the Same
I met Terri Wingham through Twitter, and then I was able to meet with her face-to-face in New York City. I fell in love with her heart and her passion and we have been in touch ever since. She’s a breast cancer survivor from my hometown in Vancouver, and fought bravely through a double mastectomy and follow-up treatments. But one of the hardest parts of the process was adjusting once treatments were over.
“I never expected how hard it would be to pick up the pieces of my pre-cancer life and move forward after treatment ended,” she said. “I could tell that everyone else was excited for my cancer to be over, so they could finally move on with their lives. But I hated that cancer would never be over for me. Friends and family wanted the pre-cancer Terri to come back, but I felt like that person no longer existed.”
Healing Through Helping
Like me, Terri received little advice on resources that might help her transition from patient to survivor. Left on her own to figure it out, she decided to leave her job and volunteer in Africa for six weeks. The trip changed her life.
“Spending time in a third world country helped me see my life more clearly,” she writes on her blog. “I returned from Africa happier, calmer, and more focused on finding meaning in my life.”
A New Dream
After her trip to Africa, Terri gave up her apartment in Vancouver, lent or gave away almost all of her wordly possessions, and took a trip around the U.S. to spread awareness about the challenges of the post-treatment transition. When she finished, she had a new dream: Create a not-for-profit organization to help other cancer survivors find healing through helping others overseas.
To jump-start her organization, Terri has committed to a “volunteer trip around the world.” She will volunteer “on almost every continent as a way to generate awareness of the challenges of survivorship and build partnerships with the best volunteer companies in the industry.”
Some of Terri’s stops will involve helping cancer patients, and some will involve teaching women business skills or helping with a wildlife conservation project. The point is to help, wherever that help is needed.
“These experiences will provide the framework for the future ‘Fresh Chapter Foundation’ by introducing me to some of the safest, most ethical, and easiest to work with volunteer organizations in the industry,” Terri says. “This insight means I can help fellow cancer warriors move through the often difficult transition from patient to survivor by helping to fund international volunteer trips for them.”
Terri Needs Your Help
Terri has already set off on her trip, but she still needs help. Volunteer organizations like GO Overseas and CLOUD Inc. are already supporting her, and she has reached a little bit over half her fundraising goals. Her trip will go from January to June and will cover such locations as Vietnam, India, Rwanda, Spain, Peru, and Costa Rica.
If you’d like to help, you can donate on this link. You may also visit her website called “A Fresh Chapter” where you can read more about her journey and sign up for her email updates from around the world.
I know that volunteering has always helped me to put things in a new perspective, and has brought new energy and vitality into my life. Whether it’s through Terri’s organization, or another of your choosing, if you’re struggling with your post-cancer experience, try volunteering. You may be surprised.
Please consider donating to Terri’s cause. Every little bit helps! And who knows-one day you may want to go through her foundation to volunteer overseas. Click here to donate.