Debbie Bellisio

Cancer survivor, ShelterBox Response Volunteer

Meet Debbie


When Debbie Bellisio, 54, from East Grinstead in West Sussex discovered she had cancer, she never thought the worst moment in her life could also lead to one of her most positive.

In 2009 Debbie found a lump, but based on her online research she convinced herself it was fine. A visit to the GP six months later, followed by a swift appointment at her local hospital revealed this wasn’t the case and in fact she had grade two breast cancer and it had spread to her lymphatic system.

Three operations, six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation later, her treatment was successfully completed by Christmas 2010.

However, rather than feeling happy, she was tired, her hair had returned but was grey – she felt old and low.

a child in Fiji is helping put up a tent

One day at a follow-up appointment she noticed a poster for an outward bound charity Odyssey, promising to ‘rebuild confidence and self-esteem’ which spoke to Debbie.

She tentatively called them, and later found herself on a five-day challenge and even a 100k walk across the Moroccan Sahara to fundraise for them.

It ignited spirit in Debbie and gave her a new confidence she hadn’t had before her cancer.

Realising how she responded to adventure, Debbie took another step and put herself forward as a volunteer for ShelterBox, the British-born international disaster relief charity.

She passed a gruelling trial which saw her camping with fourteen strangers on the Lizard Peninsula in the worst storms imaginable – something she would definitely not have agreed to in the past.

 When you experience the sharp end, you find out who you are. And I discovered I liked who I am.

A new outlook


Following her training, Debbie was flown out to Malawi, where floods had killed 276 people and left a further quarter of a million homeless.

As she arrived, it was a shock – but she focussed on the task at hand, setting up shelter for families and helping them to move back to their communities. It was so rewarding.

Before the cancer, challenging opportunities didn’t seem to come Debbie’s way, but now she realises it was her lack of confidence and openness to them that was shutting them out.

She loves her new outlook: seeking adventure and looks forward to hearing where in the world ShelterBox will send her next.

About our Response Team Volunteers

Aid arriving by boat after flooding in Malawi
Delivering ShelterBox aid in Malawi, 2015.

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Volunteering at ShelterBox

Every volunteer is instrumental in providing shelter to families after disaster, wherever they are in the world. Find out about them and how you can get involved here.

Volunteering Opportunities

Take a look at the current opportunities to get involved.

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