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Helping Others Actually Helps Yourself

by Cole EicherSurvivor, MedulloblastomaJanuary 25, 2022View more posts from Cole Eicher

Most people don’t think about the full power of volunteering. It is easy to see how the giving of your time helps the receiver, but you can’t fully understand the gift to yourself. It can take lots of time to fully reveal itself.

Helping others has made a significant difference in my life, and I am honored to share a few examples.

At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, brain cancer, and this is when I had to make some decisions on how I was going to react to things that were out of my control. Not to say that in sixth grade you are in control of very much, but having control of your attitude was a daily challenge when so much was changing in my life.

I chose the mindset of taking things “one day at a time.”  I didn’t need or want to know what was coming next week, I just wanted to get through that singular day. The pediatric oncology floor really opens your eyes to a world most people don’t know. For me, seeing children so young fighting cancer made me question how they could advocate for themselves. And for the first time my problems didn’t compare to what they were going through. I felt as though everything that I had learned or experienced in my life had led me to a point of being able to be a voice for them.

At 12, I wasn’t sure who would listen, but I knew that more research was needed to provide fewer long-term side effects and more options available for those doctors that have to share the news with parents that there are no known treatments for their child’s cancer.

I had attended a Relay For Life event a year before my cancer and enjoyed honoring my grandmother who had pancreatic cancer. It was different now because I was looking forward to attending as a survivor. The majority of survivors at Relay For Life events are adults, and while I felt out of place because of my age, my friends and family made the experience a positive one. During the event I thought about all the other kids nationwide who were fighting cancer and wanted them to feel celebrated and supported in their own community. This was a turning point for me in that I decided that there needed to be a dedicated childhood cancer team at every Relay For Life event.  

I spoke to my local staff at the American Cancer Society and shared my vision and came up with a plan. I worked with my family and friends the following year and created a team at two Relay events and invited childhood cancer families to attend. It was important to get their feedback and to have volunteers attend in large numbers to show support. At this time, I also introduced the concept of having 100% of the funds raised through this team called Gold Together For Childhood Cancer be dedicated to childhood cancer research and support programs.

While I was working to help other kids, what I didn’t realize at the time was that many of my friends before cancer moved on, and volunteering provided me with new, like-minded friends. Additionally, I did not spend much time focusing on what was taken because of cancer, but because I was volunteering, I focused on the blessings that were given to me, such as new friends and the positive results from my efforts.

I’ve noticed that some cancer patients I have met don’t always feel confident sharing what they have gone through and being a part of the Gold Together team provided them a way to stay connected and grow their voice for the cause. What has been great about kids participating at any age is they provide hope for the newly diagnosed. At Relay they have opportunities to speak, celebrate, create awareness, and for them to know that their voice is being heard.

After a couple years of testing the concept and finding success, I felt like the time was right to request a meeting with Gary Reedy, the CEO of the American Cancer Society. I wanted to share my thoughts on how we could collectively Do the greatest amount of good, in the shortest amount of time, for the greatest amount of kids.” I was nervous for the meeting because I knew that I was speaking on behalf of so many people. Mr. Reedy agreed that we should partner, and my concept officially became a national program with the American Cancer Society in 2019.

One reason why it was accepted is that volunteers are everything to nonprofits. A good idea is just that without the volunteers to help execute it. So, as a volunteer, no matter what your age, you can create the change you want to see. I am constantly aware that it was hundreds of people who volunteered and worked with me to make my vision a reality. It is the reason why I named the initiative “Gold Together.”

There are just under 2,000 Relay for Life events nationwide, and now when someone steps forward to be a Gold Together for childhood cancer team captain there will be support for families in their community!  All it takes is one person to volunteer. What is most rewarding to me is knowing that the baton has been passed to other kids and young adults and they are empowered to take it to the next level. A spotlight is shining on them to share their unique story and for them to be the hope in their communities.

I am thankful and humbled for the ability to speak, share my story, and encourage others to share that their test is their testimony. This past year I had dozens of volunteers who reached out saying since they didn’t have to commute to work, they wanted to give an hour of their time that usually was spent commuting. Many of them created flyers and graphics that we used in a new campaign called Gold Together Champions in September. Others are playing video games in tournaments and spotlighting Gold Together as their charity. There are even retired teachers and High School students hand-making fabric ribbons while they watch movies or binge watch TV. I am working on more ways that people can get involved because it is easy to focus on life’s problems, and volunteering changes the focus from you to others.  

I will be turning 20 in September, and am a sophomore at the University of South Florida majoring in business. I have no idea where I will work after college, but I know that what will be important to me is working for an organization that supports their community and empowers their employees to get involved. I know firsthand that helping others helps you as well. It is the true definition of win-win. One last item that is very important to share with you is that we are never alone. We may feel alone, but we always have faith. You may leave it temporarily, but it will never leave you.

Learn more about the Gold Together movement:

This article was featured in the September 2021 issue of the Elephants and Tea Magazine! Click here to read other stories from the latest magazine and to check out our other issues.

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