Cancer Council Queensland’s peer support team talked to one of our Rockhampton Cancer Connect Volunteers, Jenny, about her story and how she practices self-care in her daily life.
Tell us about yourself and your story.
My story of how I became involved in volunteering with cancer began in 1995 when our son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. His treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Sadly, he did not survive this experience and his life was cut short when he was eight years and 10 months old. After Thomas’ passing, I wanted to return back to the organisation that helped accommodate and support us, whilst we relocated to Brisbane. On my return, I formed the local branch of the Children’s Leukaemia & Cancer Society (now known as Childhood Cancer Support).
I grew out of this area and became involved with the adult side of cancer when, in 2003, my dear sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It was during her treatment in 2006 that I was diagnosed with lung cancer, so we were both receiving treatment at the same hospital at the same time. Unfortunately, despite ongoing, painful and intense treatment, my sister died at the age of 50. I was very sad at the time of my loss, being so close to my sister, and I wondered ‘why her and not me?’ She had four beautiful young daughters that have since grown into wonderful women.
I like to help people and feel fortunate that my cancer was found early. I spent my 60th birthday with one of my best friends hiking on the Milford Track in New Zealand. The day before my return, my Dad was admitted to hospital. He was diagnosed with lung cancer the next day and died just four days later. I spent the four days upon my return with my Dad.
People say to me, ‘how do you cope with that?’ but I do not find it ‘coping,’ I find that ‘living.’ I feel blessed to have been part of their lives as they were of mine and I feel honoured to be there for them.
Thomas, my son, was the greatest gift a parent could ever receive and is the very reason today that I do what I do. Also, to know my sister is not in pain, though I miss her every day, I feel has given me empathy to listen to other people and be part of their journey too. I get to do lots of things I would not have done if I had not been diagnosed with cancer, which is a bit of a strange way to look at it, but it is the way I see it. I continue to be very busy with life in general to this day.
What do you love most about your Cancer Connect volunteer role?
I became inducted as a Cancer Connect volunteer in 2013 and find I love just being part of people’s lives. It is a very personal experience, to have someone invite you into their journey. I am there to listen and certainly do not have all the answers, but have found most people just want to be heard. To share something with another and to listen is one of the most powerful things you can do to help someone.
What has surprised you in your Cancer Connect role?
It is surprising to hear the appreciation in people. I guess it is the unknown of what is out there. It is not until you say, ‘did you know…’ that people are aware of what Cancer Council Queensland (CCQ) does, and fully comprehend how important these services are.
What has been the most inspiring or memorable moment you’ve had since starting with CCQ?
Well, there are too many to pick out one. However, there is personal satisfaction in the achievement of others as a group. Last October it was nice to see a sea of pink as members of the community walked together for the Walk for Women’s Cancer. They united as one for a single purpose.
What is your hope for the future?
My hope is for a cancer free world – we are getting closer.
What do you hope your volunteering will achieve for cancer and Cancer Council Queensland?
I hope by volunteering I am creating an awareness of the support that is available. By being seen and known as the person who has knowledge about cancer. I am okay with being the ‘face of it’ and can talk with others to let them know we are here to support those affected by cancer with further information and support.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering in peer support or with CCQ in general?
As a ‘giver not a receiver’ I would say that volunteering is about being non-judgemental and personal satisfaction. You do not give to get, but it is a bonus. By creating a supportive atmosphere, the client is able to ask or tell you things that are heartfelt and genuine.
Do you undertake any additional/other CCQ volunteer roles? If yes, what made you want to volunteer more hours with CCQ?
I also volunteer for CCQ as a Community Activities Programme (CAP) volunteer, which I love. As I mentioned before, I like to be active and walk a lot, both outside and inside. I also volunteer as a CCQ Champion, delivering talks about how we support fellow Queenslanders affected by cancer. Whether it be a Girls’ Night In event, a Daffodil Day stand or at an Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, I support and enjoy attending these.
How do you stay focused and connected to your role?
As a strong advocate of breathing exercises, I am aware of the benefits of mindfulness and focusing on our breaths. Doing these and some gentle exercise, helps me to stay focused and connected.
What do you do in your everyday life to focus on your own physical and emotional needs?
I practice mindfulness and breathing exercises along with gentle walking – fresh air or other.
Do you have any tips for other peer support volunteers on how to relax after difficult support sessions?
Focus on yourself. If this is difficult, there are apps and books available that help with this – something as simple as sitting and focussing on a picture helps. Come along to CCQ’s Mindfulness/Relaxation Sessions or join a CAP program in your area.
Do you have your own support network that you lean on? How do they help?
I have some great and dear friends that are always there for me. They may be long distance, however, we have regular catch ups over the phone etc. For example, a friend visited me to attend an event with me that she had been hearing about.
To find out more about volunteering with us visit our volunteer opportunities page.