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Facing Forward: Making a Difference in Cancer

  • Posted: 01/20/2011

Cancer-related organizations

Cancer-related organizations include many different kinds of groups that help people with cancer. Many of them need the help of volunteers. Some programs serve only their local communities, while others help people in certain regions of the country. National organizations serve people all across the United States.

Cancer-related organizations can focus on different areas:

  • All types of cancer
  • Just one type of cancer
  • One topic, such as prevention, treatment, support, or survivorship
  • The needs of people from a specific racial or ethnic group, religion, or culture
  • The needs of family members or other people who take care of those with cancer

They also can focus on different types of advocacy areas:

  • Service and support
  • Fundraising
  • Research
  • Policy/political
“After my sister died of lung cancer, I started pitching in for a local organization that was raising money for cancer research. I channeled all my feelings into volunteering. I have made some great friends and helped raise money, too.”
— Tom, 54, lost a sister to cancer

Think about your interests, and decide if you want to volunteer with a cancerrelated organization that helps people with the issues mentioned above. You can also decide if you want to help others who live in your own area, or those who live across the United States. See below for the many options for you to choose.

Working with service and support organizations

Service and support organizations raise awareness about cancer and also ensure that people don’t have to face it alone. They offer help to the public, survivors, caregivers, and people who lost someone to cancer. These groups provide services such as:

  • Education. Teaching people about screening tests, ways to reduce cancer risks, and healthy living tips, are some of the ways organizations educate about cancer. They often give workshops and presentations at workplaces, schools, places of worship, health fairs, and even over the phone or Internet.

  • Online help. Many organizations have volunteers who are trained to answer questions on the Internet. Some may answer your questions within a certain time period. Others are able to have real-time text chats with you online.

  • Awareness. Many organizations hold events like runs or walks, fundraisers, health fairs and screenings, and information booths. They can often use your help to make sure things run smoothly.

  • Telephone hotlines. In these programs, volunteers are trained to be hotline counselors, people who give easy-to-understand information over the phone. They’re also trained to be good listeners and support other people as they talk about their feelings and concerns. Some hotlines let volunteers conduct calls from their homes.

  • Cancer support programs. These programs give emotional support to people with cancer and their families. They also help by giving people items they need, such as wigs, scarves, books, and DVDs.

  • Other types of support. Some organizations help with medical services, including referrals for second opinions or specialists. They also include legal and financial services, as well as the practical help people need, like rides to medical appointments. Or you could be a greeter or host in hospitals, or at the help desk.

Working with fundraising organizations

All cancer organizations have to raise money to provide the services people need and want. Many groups also raise funds for cancer research.

Fundraising is often done through activities such as sporting events or shows. These events not only bring in money, but also raise awareness about cancer and give hope to the people who participate.

Types of fundraising events

There are many kinds of fundraising events. They may raise money for cancer screening, outreach, education, or research. You could even hold an event on a smaller scale in your community, or host one in your home.

Here are some examples:

  • Walks, runs, and races. Many of these events take place on weekends; some take two or three days to complete.
  • Activities like golf, bowling, cycling, and dancing
  • Luncheons, dinners, auctions, and fashion shows
  • Plays and concerts

How to help with fundraising events

  • Take part in an event, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Organize an event in your community.
  • Buy a ticket or make a donation to an event.
  • Donate food or items for raffles or auctions.
  • Sponsor someone to take part in a race or game.
  • Help think of new ways to raise money and find volunteers to work on events.
  • Help with writing press releases or promotional items.

What you should know

“Each year, my friends and I form a team for our local cancer awareness walk. We all have loved ones who have had the disease, so it’s a way of giving back.”
— Patti, 58, lost her father to cancer
  • Every organization that raises money needs to publish its budget and annual report. The organization has to state where the funds go and how much is given to cancer-related activities.

  • Find out ahead of time how the organization plans to use the money you raise. You might want to ask:
    • How will the money be spent? Will it focus on local or national programs?
    • Who decides how the money will be spent?
    • What percent of the money goes to helping people with cancer?
    • Does the event support all types of cancer or just one type?

For more information, see the NCI fact sheet, Cancer Fund-Raising Organizations, at Or you may call the NCI Cancer Information service at 1-800-4-CANCER and ask for a copy.

Working to influence policy

Some people like to get involved with influencing government policy. There are cancer organizations that do this by supporting or speaking in favor of certain causes. For example:

“We’ve educated elected officials about our struggles with cancer, and I’ve gotten my support group to gather lots of signatures on our latest petition drive. It makes me feel that I’m making a difference for others who will face this disease.”
— Connie, 62, cancer advocate
  • Helping people with cancer get the care they need, even if they don’t have health insurance or can’t pay for it.

  • Protecting people from being treated unfairly because they have cancer or other health-related problems.

  • Raising awareness about cancer, and talking to people about the need for more services, education, and research.

How to get started in political issues

  • Become an active, involved citizen and consumer. For example, you can join a city, state, or regional effort to get more people involved in cancer policy issues. You can also speak about these issues at meetings, health fairs, and other public events.

  • Get to know your elected officials and talk with them about your cancer concerns.

  • Sign a petition on cancer issues. Advocacy groups often use petitions as a way to bring attention to cancer issues.

  • Join a politically focused committee and see what kind of help they need. They may ask you to make phone calls, write letters, or organize an event. If there isn’t a group near you, see if you can help by making phone calls or sending emails for them.

  • Sign up to receive cancer “alert” announcements. Many advocacy groups mail, fax, or e-mail alerts about important cancer issues. Use these to keep up to date, and ask your friends and neighbors if they want to get this information as well.

Finding cancer-related organizations

  • Find cancer-related organizations by going to the Resources list. Many of these groups have local chapters. You can also find local groups by calling your local hospital, your oncology clinic, searching the Internet, or asking a friend, neighbor, or someone at your doctor’s office.

  • Contact organizations that interest you and ask for information about their programs. Start by going to one of their events or talking with someone who organizes volunteers. See if there is a good fit between your interests and what they do.

  • Contact the health department or a hospital in your area. They should have suggestions of what organizations would be helpful to you.