I woke up on the morning of my 22nd birthday to discover my 17-year-old cousin, Georgie, had passed away after a long battle with cancer that had started on his second birthday. He became relative number six to be taken from me by the disease.
I’m a family girl through and through: aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are all so important to me. People handle grief in different ways, and I chose to throw myself into something that would channel my pain into something positive: voluntary work for cancer research.
My spare time is precious and I don’t have a lot of it. I genuinely have to believe in something and really want to do it if I’m going to drag myself away from my bed and latest boxset for it. I had started volunteering six months before Georgie died and I turned it into my grief outlet, allowing it to see me through. I find myself spending more and more time doing things with the charity (I work for Cancer Research UK CRUK) and I’m genuinely enjoying every second.
My mom was worried that spending a lot of time dealing with the subject of cancer would be depressing and I would find myself upset, but in all honesty, the opposite has happened: I find it enlightening, enjoyable, and exhilarating. For every sad story I hear, there are 50 positive ones. I get to meet courageous people who have managed to overcome so much. I get to witness the amazing work being achieved by the scientists in the lab. I’ve made friends who feel like family and I get to take part in amazing things. I’ve gotten to campaign for the charity and try to influence government at local and national levels, speak at conferences about my experiences with the charity, help out at events, visit the labs, and am now taking the next step and running the London Marathon for the charity in 2015.
I get to be a teeny tiny part of the much bigger picture, and that is a wonderful thing.
This year has been one of the most challenging of my life, as I came out of a very long-term relationship which had ended badly. I lost my home, my belongings, and, for a while, myself. It was the voluntary work with CRUK that saved me and helped me regain my sense of self. My proudest moment so far was on July 2nd, when the CEO of the charity awarded me a Special Commendation for my work with CRUK in front of over 100 of my peers at our mass lobby of Parliament. It was in that moment that I recovered who I am, and that person is pretty OK.
I would recommend volunteering for a cause you believe in to anyone and everyone. A few hours of your time will not only have a big impact on the lives affected by that cause, but it will also have a huge effect on your own outlook and way of thinking. . . even if I am beginning to regret this whole marathon idea.
Penny Christophe is a 25-year-old Cancer Campaigns Ambassador for Cancer Research UK. In her spare time, she blogs at Penny’s Pieces, which she uses to raise awareness on various cancer-related subjects. You can follow her on Twitter @pennysophia25!