Aims and objectives The involvement of patients in the design and conduct of research is increasingly promoted by policy and research bodies. The experiences of individuals who become involved in research in this way are not well understood. This study aims to describe the experiences of people's participation in patient and public involvement (PPI) in supportive and palliative care research, specifically with respect to the benefits and challenges of participation for the individuals and the broader research support structures. Methods In this qualitative exploratory study, semistructured interviews were undertaken with individuals who had a cancer diagnosis and were involved in a supportive and palliative care research collaborative over a period of 6 years. Recruitment was through the host university organisations involved in the research collaborative. A thematic analysis was undertaken to identify commonalities and differences across their experiences. Findings The eight participants in the study were highly motivated and undertook PPI in research alongside other voluntary activities. They identified a number of research and personal benefits: bringing a lay perspective into research, making a difference and personal gains. Personal gains concerned support, new knowledge and skills and greater confidence. The challenges to participation that were identified included the emotional and practical nature of the work, issues of language and identifying the difference made. Conclusions Involvement in supportive and palliative care research is valued by people with a cancer diagnosis, but there are ongoing issues of emotional support and good communication through the use of appropriate language in documentation.