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Personal cancer story

Andrew Barrington

A few years after my own remission from mantle cell lymphoma, I rang my local Cancer Council to see what kind of volunteer opportunities there were that I might be able participate in. Because the type of cancer I had experienced was reasonably rare, I believed I might be able to offer something unique as a volunteer that others may not be able to.

Andrew Barrington

I called Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and the person I spoke to on the phone let me know about Cancer Connect, the organisation's peer support program where they match cancer survivors with Australians who have cancer and are going through a similar experience. I was surprised I hadn't heard of this when I was going through my own treatment. I wish I had, as I'm sure I would have found it useful.

During my own treatment when I was staying in hospital wards, I often spoke to other patients who weren't necessarily in exactly the same boat as me, but also had cancer. I didn't really get a chance to talk to anyone who had the same cancer as I did because it is quite rare, but it would have helped a lot to be able to talk to someone more specifically about parts of my cancer experience while I was going through treatment.

When I thought about this and how beneficial it would have been for me, I realised how important it could be for others. Volunteering for Cancer Connect was exactly the sort of role I was looking for and I knew that it was a way I could help a lot of people.

Before starting as a volunteer, I completed some training over a weekend, which I really enjoyed. It wasn't long after that I started being matched to individuals who were looking for support.

As volunteers, we are provided with a phone number of the person looking for support and can make a call when it is convenient to us. I usually try to ring after hours and not around mealtimes (I usually find around 8pm is a good time), but this can depend on the circumstances of the recipient. When I make the call and find the time inconvenient to the recipient, I arrange a mutually convenient time to call back.

As a Cancer Connect volunteer, I am regularly matched to people who have called Cancer Council (13 11 20) and are going through an identical or similar cancer and treatment program as I did. I end up speaking to people who are at different stages of their diagnosis and treatment – sometimes it may be right at the beginning straight after they have been told they have cancer, at other times I speak to people who are in the middle of their treatment and just need someone to talk to.

I like to compare volunteering with Cancer Connect to running with a friend. I have always found it best to run with other people because they know how you are feeling and keep you going. They know how it feels to be puffed or tired from the experience, and they understand the challenges you face to keep going. With Cancer Connect it's no different.

My favourite part of volunteering for Cancer Connect is being available to listen and share my experiences when appropriate. The phone contact is a really special thing. I feel lucky to be able to offer some support to people going through what I have gone through – chances are that without Cancer Council they wouldn't know anyone else who has been treated for the same type of cancer. I enjoy being able to offer some hope, however small, for those currently struggling in the midst of treatment.

I would absolutely encourage other people to volunteer for Cancer Connect if they can. The training is really important to make sure you know what to say and when to say it, but it is a really valuable experience for people who feel like they have something to offer. You've got to be in the right place emotionally in terms of your own treatment, but it can be a really amazing experience.

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer