No one prepared me for the depression and isolation I would feel after my cancer treatment ended and my doctor told me that I could get back to my life.
Like many of the 12-plus million cancer survivors in North America, I felt trapped in a post treatment void. Although my friends and family were relieved and happy to see me healthy, I felt they wanted me to return to "normal" which meant getting back to my six-figure job, and enjoying all that Vancouver had to offer a single girl in her early 30's. I, however, felt like an outsider in my own life.
In January of 2011, I took a leap of faith and decided to quit my job and volunteer for six weeks at an under-funded daycare in South Africa. This experience helped me regain a sense of purpose and optimism in my life again. When I returned to Canada, I was inspired to find a way to recreate my experience for other cancer survivors so that they too might find renewed hope and purpose in their lives. With no background in starting a not-for-profit organization, I relied on the networking skills I had developed in my five years working as a professional recruiter. Armed with my blog, A Fresh Chapter, a growing Twitter following and a Facebook page, I wrote about my big hairy audacious dream and the support began to grow.
Over the next few months, I met or Skyped with leaders in almost every major cancer support organization in North America to talk about the challenges many survivors face and we discussed how we can better come together as an industry to provide diverse programming to appeal to a range of different survivors. Then I decided to take massive action in order to launch the foundation. In September 2011, I gave up my apartment in Vancouver, lent or gave away almost everything I owned and packed my bags for a six-month trip around the globe. Through the generous financial support of my family, friends, and online community I embarked on the following mission: to travel across five continents in search of the best possible international volunteer partners.
Now, just over a year later, the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation has been incorporated as a not-for-profit in Canada and we have partnered with fiscal sponsor Phase One - The Road to Curing Cancer in the USA.
With the support of a number of different cancer support organizations, we launched a two-day social media blitz to spread the word about the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation's pilot program -- #Delhi2013. Over 60 people expressed interest and we went through the difficult process of narrowing it down to 12 applicants from across North America who represent a diverse blend of demographics, types of cancer and stages of recovery.
This group of 12 people (the #Delhi2013 Dozen) have all trudged through the dark days of treatment and struggled with the "now what" question about how to navigate life after treatment. Many of them couldn't get off the couch for weeks, but now they are planning to step onto an aircraft and fly to the other side of the world to volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions in New Delhi, India.
In addition to supporting the #Delhi2013 Dozen with writing their fresh chapters, #Delhi2013 is also raising awareness about the emotional challenges many survivors face and shining a spotlight on cancer in the developing world. To help tell these stories from India, we will be joined by Mark Halliday of Moonrider Productions. By sharing his YouTube videos via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest while we are in India, the stories of our #Delhi2013 Dozen will have an immediate ripple effect on people around the world.
To make #Delhi2013 a reality we have to raise a lot of money in a short period of time. So we have partnered with Volunteer Forever, a fundraising solution for international volunteers to help each of the survivors fundraise for their in-country costs. Volunteer Forever is also providing a platform to help us raise funds to cover round-trip airfare and a trip to the Taj Mahal for each participant.
I believe after trudging through treatment, other cancer survivors deserve an opportunity to believe in big dreams and possibilities again. What better way to do that than to use social media and our online community to launch a trip to India that will incorporate volunteer work, cultural activities and a bucket-list-worthy trip to the Taj Mahal.