I’m honored to have Ashley Stafford with me today, discussing the importance of mesothelioma awareness and sharing the personal benefits she’s gained from her volunteer work. As a volunteer teacher at Zack’s Place, an enrichment center for people with special needs, I’ve seen firsthand that—as Ashley points out—volunteering, while creating meaningful connections with others, is also good for the soul. I hope you enjoy her post and find her story as inspirational as I do!

Welcome, Ashley! Thank you for joining us today!

A Week of Well-being and Inspiration: Guest Post - Ashley Stafford

Volunteering brings me a sort of inner gratification and peace, and gives my life a sense of meaningful purpose.
~ Ashley Stafford, volunteer at www.mesotheliomagroup.com

When my best friend’s dad was diagnosed with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma, I saw a family get turned upside down. After an initial surgery, coupled with a few radiation and chemotherapy treatments, it seemed as though their father was getting better… but the mesothelioma had not been completely decorticated. A year and a half later, the father was pronounced dead, a victim of asbestos-related cancer. It was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever had to witness to date.

DoctorI had never even heard of mesothelioma cancer before my friend’s father was diagnosed with it. I often thought to myself, how could he have been diagnosed in such a late stage of this cancer? Why didn’t he get this taken care of quicker? Well, it turns out that mesothelioma is extremely hard to diagnose and, with its very mild symptoms—a bad cough, fever, stomach aches, etc.—it is commonly mistaken for a cold or flu. To me that just seems crazy. How can a terminal cancer have such mild warning signs? How, I wondered, can we prevent this from happening again?

Soon after, I started volunteering.

I researched mesothelioma from a – z and realized the best way to save lives is to help people become aware of the dangers of asbestos and the many places this mineral is commonly found. Once a person knows he or she has been exposed to asbestos, the next step is to be screened for mesothelioma. Given that screening is done annually by a mesothelioma specialist, following screening protocols gives at-risk individuals the best odds to catch the disease in its beginning stages. Catching mesothelioma early on can extend life expectancy by dozens of years.

VolunteeringAfter months of volunteering, I have learned that there is something extremely gratifying about the work. Every time I volunteer I feel better and healthier—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, volunteering has now become a part of me. I feel as though I get something positive back from every volunteer effort and life around me just seems more complete.

Through my volunteer work, I’m helping to restore hope to people battling mesothelioma cancer. Working with volunteers helps patients think about something else other than the present challenges. As a person who has been affected by mesothelioma, I relate their experience with my past. I try my hardest to make them feel socially connected, thereby warding off depression and loneliness. This human connection helps to prevent the stress associated with mesothelioma from becoming overwhelming to the patient and infiltrating the lives of the people around them.

VolunteeringVolunteering for and with others increases my own social interactions, establishing a support system on the basis of common interests and commitment, and also decreases the depression that either party might be feeling. These social and emotional connections make me feel that I am part of my society. I get a unique feeling of contentment from my volunteer work. The more I volunteer the happier and more content I feel. This enhances my own personal wellbeing, while strengthening the emotional bond between me and whoever it is I am reaching out to.

Volunteering brings me a sort of inner gratification and peace, and gives my life a sense of meaningful purpose. I feel as though I have finally found a balance in my life, between what I give versus what I take from society. In this often divisive, polarized world we live in we need balance more than ever, and achieving a sense of balance begins within each and every one of us. That is why I won’t stop volunteering at www.mesotheliomagroup.com any time soon.

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Missed Monday’s guest post by Jennifer Landis? Catch up here…