Hope is My Religion

How do you find your new "normal" after cancer treatment? Find out how survivor's international volunteering adventures sparked her new hope in life.

Have you ever heard Ziggy Marley's song, "Love is My Religion"? It came on the radio here in Rwanda the other day and it got me thinking about a word--HOPE-- that has inspired a global adventure for me.

I don't think hope is about sunshine and rainbows or unicorns frolicking in grassy meadows blanketed in dew. For me, hope is a decision to believe in new possibilities. In one of my favorite books of all time, The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo writes, "It's the possibility of a dream coming true that keeps life truly exciting."

I don't know about you, but a cancer diagnosis, at the age of 30, swept my dreams from right under me, and during my 18 months of treatment, I often felt hopeless and lost.

Although I had an army of friends and family to support me through treatment, I actually felt the most hopeless when treatment ended. When I walked out of a Vancouver hospital after my final surgery in January of 2011, a nurse told me how to dress my wounds, but no one told me how to cope with the challenging emotions I faced on my way to survivorship. Well-meaning friends and family talked endlessly about how excited I must be for treatment to be over. But I didn't feel excited.

Like so many cancer survivors, I felt like I left the structure of treatment behind and entered a post-treatment void.

My sense of belonging to my pre-cancer life had all but disappeared and I had no idea how to pick up the pieces and move forward. I struggled to manage my fears of reoccurrence, my worries about how returning to a stressful job could increase my risk of developing a secondary cancer, and my sense of loss over my breasts and my carefree past.

Thankfully, shortly after my final surgery, I felt the first spark of hope ignite and was inspired to take a 6-week volunteer trip to South Africa. This experience gave me a unique opportunity to heal from cancer by allowing me to:

  • Escape 16,000km away from where my treatment took place
  • Take care of a beautiful group of 1-3 year olds (instead of being taken care of)
  • Meet fellow volunteers and staff who had no expectation for me to "get back to normal," and who gave me the space and time to redefine myself
  • See locals who had no access to basic healthcare and who had endured a lifetime of struggle, which gave me a new perspective on my cancer experience
  • Write a new story for my life about something other than cancer

But, the hope did not end there.

When I returned back to my hometown of Vancouver, Canada, I hatched an even bigger dream of traveling around the world and volunteering on almost every continent. Two and half months ago, I embarked on an "Adventure of Hope" and am now volunteering with seven organizations on five continents. My dream is to create a foundation to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally as a way of healing from their experience with cancer.

The knowledge I am gaining on this "Adventure of Hope" will allow me to form partnerships with the best volunteer organizations in the industry. Then, I hope to build strategic alliances with a number of cancer support organizations across North America so that we can work together to provide survivors with opportunities to select, fundraise, and prepare for their own overseas volunteer trips. My dream is give other cancer survivors hope about the possibility of writing new chapters in their post-cancer stories.

If you want to learn more about volunteering internationally or would like to follow my Adventure of Hope, please come visit me on my blog, A Fresh Chapter, www.afreshchapter.com. I would love to connect with you and talk about survivorship and hope.