The Power of Giving Back

When Nicole's two role models were diagnosed with cancer, she did not just sit around. Instead, she made it her goal to implement the life lessons she learned from them into her everyday life. Read more to find out what Nicole has gained from her volunteer work.

When I was a young girl, I learned two important lessons from my father and my godmother (I nicknamed "Aunt Marilyn"): always give thanks and show gratitude to the people that make a positive impact in your life; and always recognize the importance of helping others, so that you may leave the world a better place than you found it. It wasn't until I was an adult that I truly understood and fully embraced these values they had instilled in me. Cancer eventually touched the lives of these great teachers of mine, and the best way I've found to honor them was to do exactly what they'd taught me to do - give back.

While I didn't comprehend it at the time, the first step I took as a walker in the 2006 Susan G. Komen 3-Day event would prove to be the most important one I'd ever take, and would forever change my life. Since then, in the nine events I've walked in or volunteered for, I've learned amazing things about myself, others, and the power of the collective when focused on a single goal: in this case, an end to cancer.

There Is Strength in Numbers

When you first set foot into a volunteering experience in the cancer world, you immediately are overcome by a unique sense of community, camaraderie, and teamwork. People from different backgrounds, locations, ethnicities, and physical abilities who enter as strangers are transformed into friends and family all bonded by their fierce passion to bring an end to cancer

Through my volunteer work, I have been blessed to meet some incredibly inspiring individuals whom I might never have met under normal circumstances of life: I've hauled luggage beside a man honoring the memory of his mother, stuffed thousands of lunch bags next to an older woman volunteering in honor of her daughter, and walked with numerous cancer survivors, some even going through treatment at the time. Something as negative as cancer might have brought us together, but this positive sisterhood/brotherhood keeps up connected, inspiring greatness in all of us involved.

We Are Undercover Superheroes

Volunteering your time, energy, and physical abilities is a major commitment. But the benefits you receive in return are monumentally greater and often life-changing. Participating in a cause-related event like the Komen 3-Day helped me heal after my family was diagnosed with cancer, and replaced my feelings of helplessness with an inner strength that came from the opportunity to make my own impact in helping the lives of others..

You also experience the limitless potential of people, and what the world could be like when we band together for the greater good. You are immersed in a community based on kindness, service, gratitude, and love, and it's these core values that inspire truly magical things to occur. Through every action I take, whether it's walking 60 miles or servicing the walkers as a volunteer, I am living as my best self. In turn I am inspired to go even further after witnessing other participants transform into best versions of themselves. The symbolism of hope in watching a survivor cross the finish line, the satisfaction of completing personal goals that seemed unfathomable in the beginning, every piece of this experience has inspired a new way of life for me that will continue long past the event itself and is woven into every action that I take.

At the end of it all, one of my proudest moments each year is when I pick up my 3-Day "victory shirt", symbolizing the end of our journey as walkers or volunteers. I hold it up, exhausted and weary but with a full heart, thinking of my Dad and my Aunt Marilyn. With tears in my eyes, I declare, "Thank you for the inspiration. For you, I gave all I had."

"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." -Winston Churchill

How do you honor loved ones that have been diagnosed with cancer? Share your experience in the comments below.

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(Image courtesy of the author)