Celebrating Service: Through cancer diagnosis, realizing how service prepared me for life’s challenges
While gearing up for Global Youth Service Day, the annual celebration of service, I spent some time reflecting on service and realized that I had new and significant reasons to celebrate service this year. In March 2011, a little over one year ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When I received this shocking diagnosis from my oncologist, my mind immediately began racing, franticly looking for answers, a plan, calmness, something familiar and comprehensible to cling on to. I began asking myself, “What can I do, starting today, to overcome this situation? What can I do to restore my health?” During the days following my diagnosis, I thought about times in my life when I succeeded, “What did I do in those situations to succeed? How can I apply those lessons to overcome this disease?”
For each of my achievements and successful experiences, I realized that there were three underlying factors for success:
- Opportunity: I could have succeeded or failed, but I at least I had many opportunities to make an attempt at success;
- Safety nets and supportive teams: Whether it was friends, family, financial or federal programs, safety nets gave me the confidence and comfort to take risks; and
- Self-efficacy: I knew that I could make a difference.
Over the past year, I have realized how much the development this last factor, self-efficacy, is a result of my years of service and many years of working in this field. Everyday at work, we talk about each person’s ability to make a significant difference and to change the world for the better. It is a perspective and mentality that is so engrained in my everyday thought that, after hearing my diagnosis, I naturally and easily harnessed what I’ve learned from service and applied that attitude and strategy to my efforts to overcome this disease. I realized that people of service are always ready to work with others to make positive change.
As with all good, effective service, I decided that my doctors and I would work together as team. I would not be a passive patient, a recipient of orders. Rather, I would be an active part of the solution to regain my health, and at times, the leader of the campaign, overseeing the coordination of all the pieces. I have been fortunate to work with an exceptionally superb medical team who agrees with and supports my mentality and role; their support of this mentality and role is one of the reasons I chose to work with them.
From helping with my uncle’s mayoral campaign as a teenager to my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I never anticipated that service would give me the skills (the perspective, the attitude) to cope with a cancer diagnosis. I never anticipated how much service would give me or how prepared it would make me for life’s challenges. We often talk about how service provides opportunities to develop life skills. The term “life skills” has so much more depth and meaning to me now. I have no doubt that my years in the service field have developed and nurtured this “can-do” mindset that is helping me survive.
I am so grateful to work in this field and to have had many opportunities to serve, I am so grateful for everyone who works to nurture a service mindset, and I am so grateful that we have an international day to recognize and celebrate service. On GYSD, I celebrated service and all that it has given me.