When we are inflicted by cancer, whether it has happened to us personally or to a loved one, we can’t see the world the same way again. There is a permanent change that takes place within us, which influences the way we view the world, and the actions we take going forward. This is why all of us who have been touched by cancer in some way want to do something about it. The most common question that resonates with us is how do we give back? What can we do to make a difference? While this thought and the intention are commendable and can only be praised, we must consider multiple factors before going ahead.

The reason I bring this up is because, being in the field myself, we get many people who reach out to us with the intention of contributing or giving back. Along with the fact that we understand the space better and where help is really needed. Most people want to give to an NGO and to support medical treatment and this is where all the contribution goes. Unfortunately most people who have this noble intention of giving back don’t realise that there is a huge underlying foundation that holds the entire structure in place.

In fact I am not a big supporter of NGO’s, (i’m not saying they are not helpful, of course they are!) but why shouldn’t we build entities that also make money to self sustain and grow? I have worked for an NGO and have seen the top management and highly skilled individuals spend their entire time and energy trying to raise money, beg and plead with corporates and other institutes to fund them. Their time and efforts go into that and not into creating value or providing their expertise to the cause.

What about contributing to the people who run the show, or the functioning of the office or social media to help them spread the word. This is also very much a part of running a social entity, be it a support group, NGO or a for profit organisation. I don’t want to tell you where you should spend your time and money but I would like you to look beyond the obvious. The obvious is backed with a lot already (there is always room for more) but support, fund, contribute to the factors that are under the radar, the foundation and that actually need the help.

Also many cancer survivors want to start their own support initiatives and this is a lovely thought. We need more cancer advocates who can go out there and tell their story. There is however one point to consider, if you are a cancer survivor it does not make you an expert in cancer treatment or care. I sat at a cancer support group meeting where a cancer survivor who runs an NGO of over a 1000 patients and survivors went in front of the group and told us how yoga gave her cancer. This is not only completely false information but extremely dangerous. That’s when I realised it’s habitual in India. If you lose a lot of weight you suddenly become a nutritionist, if you run a marathon, you’re a running expert and if you battle a disease, you are equipped to give medical advice.

So how do you give back for the cause? Give in any way you can but give consciously. Make a difference, even if it’s in the smallest way possible. Contribute in places where people really need it. Support entities that are not about only looking good on paper. Share your story, give hope but don’t go beyond your depth of knowledge. When a cancer survivor approaches us to contribute, I ask them what their skills are and this is how we have had tremendous help in technology, marketing, digital, finance and so on, the underlying foundation that makes us run the show today.

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