In Praise Of Our Volunteers

It has been a very hectic number of weeks of travel, meetings and lectures. .  Cramped spaces on airplane flights haven’t helped matters either. All contribute to the fact that I have not been able to update my blog for a while.


As I write this I am en route to the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.  I look forward to this meeting every year, especially since it provides the opportunity to hear the latest in cancer research and listen to lectures on the current state-of-the-art in cancer treatment.  I expect this year’s meeting will be no exception, and I hope to provide some insights on this blog over the next couple of days.


Right now, however, I am reflecting on something unusual that has happened during these past weeks as I traveled around the country.  And that is the number of volunteers who have stopped me to say hello and let me know about their personal relationships with the American Cancer Society.


I guess this probably wouldn’t be so unusual if this had been occurring routinely in the past.


After all, when I travel my luggage and my various computer and other business bags have American Cancer Society identification tags in plain view. The fact is, it hasn’t happened so regularly in the past as it has in the past several weeks.


The enthusiasm and commitment volunteers bring to the Society is nothing new. 


We are, after all, a volunteer organization over 2 million strong.  The commitment of so many people to Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer—among many related community activities—is well known and well documented.


But there is something different this year, at least based on my experience.  It is more than the number of people who participate, or how much money they raise.  It is the sense of commitment and enthusiasm that appears greater to me than in years past.


For example, the staff in my wife’s medical practice in Thomasville, Georgia enthusiastically embraced Relay, and raised a considerable amount of money through various activities including a massive barbecue where they sold over 125 Boston butts in one day.


Our son—who is 12 years old—decided he wanted to stay into the early morning hours at our local Relay.  He recognized that this was a special event with special meaning, and he wanted to be a part of it.


My wife’s cousin in Douglas, Georgia was chair of their local Relay and was incredibly enthusiastic about the contribution she and her community were making in our fight against cancer.


Those are personal stories, and I suspect many of us active in one way or another with the Society have similar experiences in our own lives.


But I must admit that I was a bit taken aback a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in an airline lounge in the Atlanta airport working on my computer and a gentleman spontaneously started talking to me about his role as chair of a local Relay event near Daytona, Florida.


He commented that he noted the American Cancer Society logo on my polo shirt, and wanted to know if I worked for the Society.


I replied that I did, and he then told me about his role in his local Relay.  He had his own business, he said, which always absorbed much of his time.   He became involved in Relay several years ago, and now was chair of the event.


He went on to say how much time it took to organize the event, especially in the month or so prior to Relay weekend.   He pointed out, with considerable sincerity, that he thoroughly enjoyed every bit of his effort and was grateful for the work that the Society does for cancer patients and cancer research.


Since that discussion, I have been stopped several more times by people to say much the same thing. 


One time recently on another flight there was a man sitting next to me who noted my Society luggage tag.  He told me about his wife who was active in Relay in one of the local counties near Atlanta, which happens to be one of the largest (if not the largest) Relay events in the country. 


The story he told was much the same as the other gentleman.  His wife’s commitment to Relay took a lot of time from their personal life, but the reward for the effort in their opinion was well worth the sacrifice.


Last week I was at a committee meeting in Washington, DC. 


Just prior to the start of the meeting, a young man came into the office I had borrowed to get caught up on email.  He asked me if I worked for the Society, and I replied that I did.


He then told me about the fact that he was active in Relay at his college, and although he recently graduated he remains committed to the activities of the Society and plans to continue to volunteer.  In fact, he said, he had his Relay T-shirt on that very day, under his dress shirt and tie.  Just like Superman, he showed me the T-shirt (and I have a picture to prove it).  Now, that is what I call commitment!!!!


Even today, while walking down the hallway to my flight, someone stopped me to tell me about their relationship with the Society, and what it has meant to them.


I don’t think anything, though, surpassed meeting the young college students from Virginia Tech who visited with us during our recent Board meeting in Austin, Texas.


These young people had just gone through a terrible tragedy including the loss of their classmates who had been active in planning Virginia Tech’s Relay event.


Despite the tragedy, and despite the fact that the students had left the campus in the aftermath of the shootings, they decided to go ahead and have their Relay.


There weren’t many dry eyes in the audience as the students related what that particular Relay meant to them, to their classmates and the Virginia Tech family.  It brought them together in a spirit of hope and mission, and provided a much needed moment to restore their faith and their direction in life.


I guess what makes me want to share these stories (and there are others) is the fact that there are so many people who take so much pride in volunteering for the American Cancer Society, and in their relationship with the Society.  For them, their involvement is very personal.


I know that, as an organization, we are not alone when it comes to volunteer commitment.  This country is fortunate to have so many people willing to do so much for so many.


I have said many times that when I come to work (wherever that work may be on any given day), I have a sense of pride and gratitude that I am part of this organization.  I know my colleagues throughout the country share that pride as well.


What makes this all so special are the folks who give of their time and their money to help us do the work we do.  As the chance events of these past weeks have demonstrated, there are many of you out there who share that pride in taking part in the activities of this Society.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  You probably didn’t know it, but when you have shared your spirit with me, you lifted my spirit as well.


Knowing how much you care makes us all feel very special about what we do.


Thank you.

1 thought on “In Praise Of Our Volunteers

  1. hello sir

    i am student persuing MSc.biotechnology(2 semester). Sir for the very first time i am writing to u
    sir my grandma died of LIVER CANCER ,my uncle died of cancer and many close known also suffered from same pain which had provoked me to do something in this regard and sir i wuld reqest u to please guide me in this respect that if i want to study the cancer how shuld i start and how u and ur society culd help me to follow up .
    sir i wuld be highly thankful and gratified if u please guide me as i know u wuld be receiving hundreds of such request but kindly respond as it will provide a booster to follow up and i wuld also like to share the experience and the case history as i searching for some aspects
    Thank you



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