A man with a megaphone stands in front of an awareness ribbon.

National Volunteer Week 2021

June 1st to 7th was National Volunteer Week here in the UK, and I thought it'd a good moment to talk about the vital role that volunteers have, particularly in the cancer arena.

I don’t want this article to come across as a boast fest, but inevitably it focuses on the things that I’ve done/achieved as a volunteer in order to emphasize the importance of the role.

A highlight

I have to start, though, with a highlight of my life when I was recognized for voluntary work that I had done in and around my local town. In 2010, the town was described as a ghost town, and I was part of a group the led its revival to the extent that it has now won awards as the best place to live in the North West of England.

In the UK, the ultimate recognition for excellence in a sector is being recognized in Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday or New Year’s honors list. I’m very proud that I was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 2019 birthday honors list for service to the community and charity.

Volunteering for prostate cancer awareness

However, I believe that I’ve achieved so much more since my cancer diagnosis working as an ambassador, fundraiser, and volunteer awareness speaker for Prostate Cancer UK.

I was interviewed by PCUK and asked why I wanted to get involved as a volunteer in the first place and what I enjoyed most. The answer for me was very easy!

When I was diagnosed stage 4 in May 2017 aged 60, I knew nothing about prostate cancer, and I’d never heard of the PSA blood test. My wife asked the urologist how long he thought I’d had the cancer, and his response was 10 years.

Just imagine how I felt when I then found out that I’d had a right to a PSA blood test from age 50 and, if I’d had one every year from age 50, I’d have been diagnosed earlier and been able to have curative treatment instead of being diagnosed terminal. I decided that I wanted men to get the message that they had to do something proactive about their prostate health in order to avoid ending up like me.

Sharing my story

I started telling everyone my story and then did a few informal talks before becoming an official speaker for PCUK. In normal times, I do in the region of 30 awareness talks each year, telling the audience my story before doing a more technical presentation about prostate cancer.

When asked why I do this, my answer is very simple: I know it saves lives, as I know that a number of men have had early diagnosis and curative treatment as a result of my awareness raising. What an epitaph that would be.

My story is an interesting one, in that I went from training for an ultra-marathon to terminally ill in 36 hours! PCUK has been able to help me leverage that story via interviews, live and recorded, on national and local TV, and radio and press articles. These were a bit scary at first, but you get used to being you and telling your story. It’s an incredibly effective way of raising awareness, potentially saving many lives.

The importance of fundraising and giving

Fundraising is also vitally important to charities, especially in the cancer research field where the vast bulk of research is charity-funded. Covid has massively impacted charity income and research in the UK. This is why fundraising is so important, and I’ve written about my fundraising escapades before.

I’ve raised a significant sum for PCUK in the years since my diagnosis, as well as influencing many others to raise money for charity. However, the escapades are having to get wackier and wackier, as the fundraising pot gets ever smaller. I think my challenges in June this year – hiking a marathon and attempting to walk/run a 100km ultra marathon – are the most I’ll ever be able to do! People say I’m crazy!

In closing, I’m in the privileged position of being able to dedicate time to charity work. For those more time-challenged, let me say that every little bit that you can give really matters, so please do your best to give a little.

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