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“Giving something back”: our supporters are the beating heart of what we do

Lilly Matson
by Lilly Matson | Personal stories

17 August 2022

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A photograph of two people setting up a CRUK fundraising event

We support lifesaving cancer research through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. 

But none of what we do would be possible without those who support us. 

From our huge network of volunteers, including our campaign ambassadors, who drive change on urgent cancer issues by influencing government policy, to those who help raise vital funds, it is these people that help the clock of the charity tick.  

We’re supported by around 33,000 volunteers. They’ve helped run our shops since 2002, and Imperial Cancer Research Fund shops for 20 years before that – plus fundraising activity since 1936.  

From campaigning for policy change, to telling their stories in the media as the human voice of our research, people are giving their time right across our organisation.  

Alex’s story  

It was Christmas 2009 when Alex first found a lump on her right breast and after strong encouragement from her husband, she went to see her doctor. They did some tests and referred her to a consultant. 

After a tense 2 week wait, during which she kept her referral secret from her teenage children, Alex was diagnosed with grade three, hormone positive breast cancer. And it was growing fast. 

A photo of Alex, volunteering at our Cancer Awareness Roadshow

Alex volunteers at our Cancer Awareness Roadshows.

Within two weeks of her diagnosis, she’d had a lumpectomy and after multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she started to take a drug called Tamoxifen – the effect and benefit of which we helped prove in the 1980s, and which has transformed survival and outcomes for people with breast cancer.   

Like many diagnosed with cancer, this was an uncertain time for Alex. To help manage and discuss her feelings, Alex rang our Cancer Helpline, a phone line run by qualified nurses to answer any questions members of the public have about their symptoms, treatment or services. 

Now, almost 13 years on, Alex is a proud cancer survivor. 

“I’m very passionate about early detection and screening. During my treatment I was able to access some fantastic resources from CRUK. This spurred me on to “give something back,” Alex says.  

She now supports us as a health awareness volunteer, heading out with our nurses on the Cancer Awareness Roadshow, where she informs members of the public about preventing cancer and highlighting the importance of early diagnosis. Alex is also a media volunteer. Our media volunteers offer us the chance to tell honest, authentic personal stories and provide a powerful way to show the impact of cancer and the urgent need for more research. 

“I like knowing I may have planted a tiny seed; what I’ve said or leaflets I’ve handed out could make just one person think ‘yes, do you know what, I will get that lump or bump looked at’, that’s the amazing part.” 

From handing out leaflets to helping to run campaigns, Alex has been part of the CRUK family for 10 years and offers a unique perspective as someone who has been on both sides of our work. 

Effie’s story  

“To anyone thinking about volunteering, I would say don’t just think about it – do it!”  

Effie made the decision to become a Campaigns Ambassador shortly after her sister was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2017. She had previously already lost her step-mum to breast cancer.  

A photo of Effie, a CRUK volunteer

Effie became a Campaigns Ambassador after her sister was diagnosed with cancer.

“I strongly felt it was time to lend my voice to helping others receive an early diagnosis and save families from the stress of losing a loved one to cancer,” says Effie.    

You may think volunteering is limited to supporting one of our 600 charity shops around the UK. But actually, the roles available to our volunteers range from helping at a whole host of events, to getting involved in local fundraising committees or sharing your story in the media.  

Effie has volunteered with her local MP in Basingstoke to support campaigns. 

“In my volunteer role I communicate with my MP to support Cancer Research UK campaigns and local issues, including awareness around early cancer diagnosis and treatment. We often run campaigns at Race for Life events, and it’s here that I’ve had the opportunity to take part as an event day volunteer, cheering and encouraging participants to reach the finish line,” says Effie. “The sense of community you experience by helping people achieve their goals is deeply satisfying.”  

Effie volunteers so that she can play her part in ensuring we can be closer to a world where we don’t worry about cancer.  

“To me, beating cancer means a better world where I can live confidently, knowing that cancer is no longer a threat. It means living a fuller life that won’t be cut short.” 

Peter’s story  

Peter, from Worcestershire has chaired Wyre Forest Local Committee for over 25 years. After countless concerts, breakfasts, luncheons and collections, the committee is now closing in on raising an amazing total of £1m.  

Peter was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, and as part of his treatment, he took part in a Cancer Research UK trial, the CHHIP trial, which compared different ways of giving radiotherapy to patients.  

A photo of Peter and his wife Alison

Peter is raising money in memory of his wife, Alison.

“For a number of years I had been collecting money for Cancer Research UK and then I get diagnosed and go on the trial. I was treated because of the money raised in the past,” he says. “I was part of the trial that was funded by the charity I supported, which sought to provide effective ways of treating my cancer and which could also free up radiotherapy resource for the NHS – it was win-win!” 

Like Alex, Peter is also a media volunteer and in 2014, we introduced Peter and his wife Alison to Dr David Dearnaley, who was the Chief Investigator of the trial, which looked at giving different fractions of intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). 

“The meeting with Dr Dearnaley was fascinating, instructive and stimulating. It gave me such insight – because of his work, I really was part of something making great progress.”  

And then in 2015, Peter’s wife Alison was first diagnosed with ampullary cancer. 

She was diagnosed at an early stage partly because she was a doctor herself, and after a complex operation, surgeons felt the operation was “potentially curative” and no further treatment was given. However, Alison’s cancer returned in autumn 2019. 

“At the end of March, after 6 sessions of chemotherapy she was scanned and the results were very positive. The chemo had done a fine job in arresting further progress so far. At that time we were very pleased with the result. The sessions proved to have very little side effects and Alison was able to lead a more or less normal life.”  

However, because of the arrival of COVID-19, Alison was then advised not to visit the hospital for the foreseeable future.  

“Although her cancer was terminal the doctors said they had to protect her and the only way to do that was by keeping her away from the hospital and thus suspending her treatment” explains Peter.  

After some 5 to 6 weeks with no treatment her symptoms returned, but despite going back on chemo it was too late. She chose to spend her time with Peter, her close family and the few friends allowed during lockdown.  

“She just wanted to live in peace, her days in that summer of 2020 were spent in calm fortitude with the comfort of her great faith” Peter says. Alison died on 20 October 2020.  

Peter now has an extra incentive to continue fundraising in memory of Alison. 

Whether it’s time people give us, donations for our shops, or money in a collection tin, every bit of support is getting us closer to a world where cancer no longer exists. 

If you’d be interested in supporting us, including being a media volunteer, find out more about how you can get involved