Svetlana Mintschenko is one of our inspiring volunteers. She has been a regular volunteer at our spit-kit socials on a Tuesday evening and is now in training to become a volunteer courier. As part of a series of blogs to celebrate this year’s Volunteers’ Week, we asked Svetlana how she first got involved with Anthony Nolan and what she enjoys about her role.
Tell me a bit about why you wanted to volunteer for Anthony Nolan.
In one way or another, my whole family have been touched by cancer or serious illness, and volunteering for Anthony Nolan offered me a chance to give something back.
My friend introduced me to one of Anthony Nolan’s existing volunteers, Peter Hodes, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He inspired me to take a look at the website and I was very taken with the focus and professionalism of Anthony Nolan’s work.
As a first step I came along to a spit-kit social on a Tuesday evening at Anthony Nolan’s head office to see how I got on, and from there I was hooked!
What does the role involve?
I have been volunteering at the weekly spit-kit social sessions for about a year and half now. It involves pre-packing and then sending out vital spit-kits – the saliva sample tubes that get sent to potential new donors.
A few months ago I also applied to be a volunteer courier with Anthony Nolan. Once a person has donated their stem cells, they need to reach their recipient within 72 hours. Volunteer couriers then collect the cells and deliver them wherever they need to go. It’s an enormous responsibility and I was honoured to be offered the role.
I have now attended an induction day and shadowed my first courier trip – it was from UCH to the Royal Marsden, in London. Shadowing an experienced courier was a fantastic way of seeing first-hand how everything works and the focus needed to carry out the role.
How much of your time do you devote to volunteering?
Volunteering at the spit-kit socials is very flexible, as volunteers can just come on a Tuesday evening, whenever they can. I try to make a commitment to attend regularly, though, and make sure I’m available on those evenings.
Volunteering as a courier will take up a lot more of my time. Often couriers do several trips a week and as transplants can be scheduled, postponed and cancelled at short notice, I need to be available throughout the week.
Have you ever found the role challenging?
When I am talking to people about Anthony Nolan, I think it’s very important to get the facts and figures right, but it can be a challenge to keep these all in my head! I am very impressed when other staff and volunteers have these facts and figures at their fingertips – for example, how many transplants Anthony Nolan carries out each year.
Often when people ask me about my role, it’s the first time they have heard of Anthony Nolan, so it’s quite a responsibility to pass on the right messages.
I was recently on holiday in Spain and my friend’s son was fascinated by the idea of stem cell donation. The terminology and legal issues are very different in Spain, so I had to be careful to give him the right information.
How do you benefit from volunteering?
To know that I am helping others and that I am an important link in the chain gives me a warm feeling – I am smiling inside.
It also benefits me to be part of such an innovative environment and to see the new approaches that Anthony Nolan is taking to growing the register and encouraging new donors.
What do your friends and family think about your volunteering role?
My late husband would have been thrilled that I was volunteering for Anthony Nolan and so proud!
My friends are very impressed and are cheering me on. If they had the time and opportunity I am sure they would also take part.
I have never had any puzzlement or questioning of my role at Anthony Nolan; everyone I know has been hugely supportive.
Do you think volunteering is worthwhile?
Definitely – a resounding yes! By volunteering, you’re not just helping others – you’re also developing yourself.
As a volunteer you get to meet people from all walks of life – different cultures and backgrounds –yet you all have something in common. I have met people who have had a transplant themselves, or someone in their family has, and it’s an honour to hear their stories.
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering for Anthony Nolan?
Go for it! Look at the website and get in touch with someone from Anthony Nolan.
I also recommend coming along to the spit-kit socials as a first step, if you can– even if it’s not the right role for you, it’s a great place to start and someone will be able to direct you to something you are more interested in.
A word of warning, though – once you start you will become hooked!
How you can help
Has Svetlana inspired you to volunteer with Anthony Nolan? You can read more about our full range of volunteering roles here and find out about our current opportunities.