“I was in a state of complete shock when I was diagnosed as having breast cancer. I just could not believe it. Cancer had never been on my radar. Young people of my age just don’t get cancer. This can’t be right.” Georgie was explaining to me her reaction to being diagnosed with cancer in May 2021, at the age of just 29. She went on to describe the unimaginable course of treatment that she received, including surgery, radiotherapy, and twelve weeks of chemotherapy.
With a deep breath, she explained to me that “chemotherapy is the scariest word in the world. The fear of losing your hair is unbelievably frightening.” Georgie continued saying that “because it was COVID, I was often completely alone.” She completed her treatment only last August (2022). Some people might want to take it easy for a bit, but not Georgie! “While I was being treated, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do. Cancer certainly focuses the mind! I decided that I wanted to use my experience to help others and the local community.”
Georgie has become a volunteer with two voluntary groups: CoppaFeel! and Communities 1st. The two organisations complement each other very well. Georgie is a Boobette for CoppaFeel! and a Community Connector for the Communities 1st Our Health Matters Project. CoppaFeel! is a breast cancer awareness charity and the Boobettes are a group of people under the age of 35 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, treated, and who act as ambassadors to raise awareness.
Our Health Matters Project
Communities 1st is pleased to be part of the Our Health Matters project which aims to reduce health inequalities in respiratory diseases, cancer, severe mental illness and hypertension across Hertsmere. It is part of the nationwide Core20PLUS5 initiative.
Volunteer Community Connectors have experienced the illness that is being tackled and they seek to raise awareness of the condition and improve services in the local area. “This is right up my street.” Georgie explained, “We should all remember that every one of us has breast tissue regardless of gender. It’s a reminder that we all need to take time to check our breasts, pecs, and chests regularly. Those who have gone through the trauma of cancer often have a special place in their hearts to raise awareness. We have firsthand knowledge about the importance of early detection and the ways cancer services are delivered. Our personal experiences make us powerful advocates for spreading understanding and hope.”
Georgie has enormous courage, speaks passionately, and is a woman with a mission. “It is brilliant that Communities 1st is helping to tackle health inequalities and I am thrilled to play a part. I think my experience has influenced the organisation. I am determined that I should use my experience of cancer so that fewer young women don’t have to go through what I did.”
A different sort of volunteer?
Volunteers undertake a wide range of activities, as a visit to the Communities 1st website clearly demonstrates. Very often, including in this series of blogs, we hear about volunteers undertaking practical jobs - shopping, handyman tasks and repairs, gardening, providing transport, prescription deliveries, and befriending. Volunteers undertaking these services are invaluable and the community could not function without them. We hear much less about volunteers involved in other roles such as education, governance, and awareness raising.
Georgie, as a volunteer, is deeply involved in this latter group of activities. I was interested to learn about what exactly she does. With huge enthusiasm, she told me how she has spoken to many people in both large and smaller groups about her experience of breast cancer. “This helps raise awareness. I talk about what happened to me, but I have also looked at the research. I’ve got the facts to back up my experience.” A formidable force!
“Cancer remains faceless until it touches your life directly or affects someone you care about,” Georgie continued. “When people see my face and listen to my story, a profound realisation often dawns on them. It becomes clear just how vital it is to be your own advocate and persistently address any concerns that don’t feel normal to you. I cannot stress enough the significance of early detection.”
Borehamwood Health and Cancer Awareness event
Georgie gave me an example of the volunteering that she has been doing. “Last April, Communities 1st organised a Health and Cancer Awareness event in Borehamwood. There were lots of stalls and it was good to bring organisations together so we could learn from each other. We had great attendance from members of the community. As you can imagine, I spoke about breast cancer. I spoke to a lot of women – and men. After my talk a lot of people came up to me, saying they had no idea that young people could get cancer, and wanting more information. Since then, I have talked to a number of groups. I’ve also done quite a lot of pop-up stalls.”
Georgie also told me how she is talking with local GP practices and councillors about the need for changes, across Hertfordshire, in how services are provided.
The power of social media
Social media is a powerful tool for getting your message across. Without question, Georgie deploys her skills with huge enthusiasm. She documented her treatment to help others looking for answers. “I wanted to show what cancer is like to a 29-year-old girl who is going through it,” she explained. She spreads the word through her YouTube channel.
To help Communities 1st, for Volunteers’ Week 2023, Georgie made a video to describe her volunteering. There is also a video in which she talks about her experience. These are available on the Communities 1st website.
Looking to the future
Raising awareness always need to be long term projects. Georgie does not feel daunted. “I’m in this for the long haul. I know it makes sense. I have lots of plans for working with Communities 1st and look forward to developing our relationship.”
Written by: Chris Cloke, Communities 1st Volunteer