THE BLOG

Facebook Likes Don't Fight Cancer, Action Does

10/07/2014 11:08 BST | Updated 08/09/2014 10:59 BST

Spend five minutes on Facebook and you'll find cancer.

Be it those ubiquitous 'cancer selfies' or the bemusing proliferation of posts saying 'If you hate cancer, like this', this is a disease that provokes us to do something, even if that something is utterly trivial.

But how easy is it, really, to do something beyond the trivial, other than putting a few coins in a collecting tin or, indeed, shaking that tin?

In the absence of an inspirational figure like the wonderful Stephen Sutton - whose young life was claimed by cancer in may and whose profile on social media and traditional media actually did make a difference - do we really have to train for a marathon or help run a charity shop to do something meaningful in the fight against cancer?

Our charity, Fcancer, came into being to address this very issue.

We wanted to do something that went beyond the rather amorphous aim of 'cancer awareness' (are any of us really unaware of cancer?) and instead give people the tools they need to actually do something in the battle against cancer.

We didn't want it to be about money, for the simple reason that not everyone has it.

And we didn't want it to be an old-fashioned volunteering programme - most of us don't have the time or even the inclination to commit to spending every Saturday afternoon battling the till in our local charity shop, or putting in a 10-hour shift at work and then doing another four-hour shift in our local hospital.

We wanted to create something that everyone could get involved in. So we made it about donating something all of us can spare, to a greater or lesser extent: a little time and a lot of skills.

And of course, access to skills is just as important for charities, as of course, they pay to bring in highly-skilled staff. So we launched Fcancer, a micro-volunteering platform that lets people use their skills as currency.

The 'F' stands for 'fight', nothing ruder, because Fcancer allows us all to get involved meaningfully in the fight against cancer.

The desire to 'do something' is amplified when you are faced - as so many of us are - with a loved one diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer is so often articulated as a 'battle' but, for those who have a loved one affected by the disease, one of the most common feelings is a sense of impotence.

All you can do is look on from the sidelines as your loved one submits him or herself to the challenge of surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and twice-yearly scans. The battle is taking place between the patient, medics and the disease itself.

The churning stomach, that desperate wish that you could do something, anything, to help, can be experienced as something akin to the 'fight or flight' rush of adrenaline you feel when you sense danger, but flight isn't an option, and the ones doing the fighting are the medics and the cancer patient.

At Fcancer, we know this feeling all too well, as each one of our founding members has had a parent affected by cancer. Indeed, it is these circumstances that led to the charity being founded.

Fcancer works a little like an online dating site, except you won't run the risk of spending a lacklustre evening in a gastropub with a stranger who has lied about their height.

You just sign up and create a profile, detailing what skills you have to offer. The cancer charities do the same, listing what skills they are looking for to help with a particular project, fundraising initiative or event.

And then, as with online dating, the two parties can just hook up and take things from there. It might be a one-night stand, just a torrid afternoon of app design or case study writing for a charity who may never need your help again, or it could form the basis of something long-lasting and beautiful... It's up to you and the charity.

Unlike with online dating, you're pretty likely to find a match. Whatever you can do, there's a cancer charity somewhere that is looking for someone with just those skills - it could be anyone from a heavyweight such as Cancer Research or Sue Ryder, to smaller, community-based cancer charities such as the Wessex Cancer Trust.

Ours is a skills-rich generation, and the brilliance of this sort of 'micro-volunteering' model is that it enables people to volunteer in a way that fits in with their lifestyle, and the needs of the charity too. It doesn't matter how much money you do or don't have, it's your skills that count.

Just as comedian Jason Mansford used his celebrity and social media reach to help courageous teen Stephen Sutton find a wider platform for his own fundraising initiative for the Teenage Cancer Trust, this sort of micro-volunteering enables everyone to use their own skills, whatever they may be, for the common good.

With cancer charities able to divert funds they would have spent on PRs, social media experts, event stewards and graphic designers into supporting people with cancer - or into research that will help stop the disease taking hold in the first place - every block of time donated takes us just a couple of steps closer to beating cancer.

And you don't even have to rattle a collecting tin.

http://fcancer.org/