Saturday, 5 October 2013

Young people deserve better cancer support!

My favourite area of work is with young people, and there are two main reasons for this. The first is that I just love the enthusiasm and energy from this group, but secondly, I am genuinely shocked, at how little support is available, and I want to make some noise about this!

By chance, I have spent the last week, involved with some young people. I have attended a presentation by Shine Cancer Support and was privileged to meet several, vociferous people. I also met many young people raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support #CoffeeMorning. Since then I have been in regular contact, with others that have found me through Twitter.

Experience shows me that, services are ok, if you are very young, teenage, or 'middle age' but the group of 20s 30s,and 40s is largely forgotten. There are specialist units and charities that can help support you in your earlier years, but what happens when you move from being a teenager, to becoming a young adult? It seems that you start falling between the large cracks in cancer support.

I was 50, and very worldly wise when I was diagnosed, but I struggled to find the appropriate support I needed. So I am not at all shocked to hear that young people, who are just starting to find their place in the world, can't find what they need to help them, when facing a cancer diagnosis. My opinion is that in the past, this group, has not really had a voice, but with the now vast, use of social media in this age group, people are beginning to join up, and fight this inequality.

Many of the issues that this group face, affect them so differently to others. Fertility, relationships, education, and living with uncertainty, are just some of those. These decisions, are life changing, and difficult to make if you are in perfect health. Imagine the pressures you may face when dealing with cancer too.

During one of my many recent conversations, dating was being discussed by some young ladies. They were all talking about when they should tell any new partner about their cancer! At the start of the relationship, over a dinner, of just before hopping into bed? This was particularly poignant for anyone who has had surgery. We were all laughing, as we imagined some very strange scenarios. But the point was well made, and so important.

The ease with which these issues are discussed peer to peer is very refreshing, but the biggest problem I see is the difficulty in communication between this group and the health profession. Generally, it is like there are two different languages being spoken, and both groups struggle to understand each other at times.

Unfortunately, I cannot really think of the answer to this issue, even if there was an unlimited supply of money. But what I am really aware of, is the difference that communicating with someone, who has faced/is facing similar to you, can make. There are national charities that facilitate forums etc, but I am not convinced that this is what is needed. Unfortunately, although these are very safe areas, on the whole they don't truly represent what is happening in real life. There are many unofficial communities forming which are much more real, but still safe.

Small, local, and more welcoming support, seems to be what is required, but the way that marketing is done these days means that local organisations are constantly struggling for funding. What I have also seen is that, particularly with this group, the people running the support, need to have a greater connection to the people receiving it. I constantly see people in charge of large budgets that have no idea, of the issues that the people they are trying to help, are facing, they are just too disconnected! A common issue across most support agencies I feel.

Enough from me! I have attached a part of a blog from an amazing young lady. Sam has written a couple of guest posts for me, which have had tremendous impact. She writes in that very refreshing and blunt style, that I was referring to earlier. This piece is an example of the issues that these young people face. She refers to her experience with radiotherapy.

"I can't look at this mask any more because I am now coping with my cancer more than I did when I was being treated. I now have the time to think about everything that happened. And the more I think about it the harder it has become. I have nightmares, panic attacks and anxiety pains when it comes to thinking about cancer, just last week I convinced myself I had bone cancer and this week I was convinced I had a brain tumour, I know I don't but thinking about these things gives me pain which makes it worse! And theres no not thinking about it. Cancer has taken over my life. I have become my cancer. Oh bollocks!

I've thought about counseling but that's not something I want to do again as it has only helped 1/3 times for me. 
I've tried keeping it to myself but it only got worse.
I have my follow up next week and I'm hoping there is something or someone who can help me!

I look strong and healthy and like it never happened to me but my thoughts and emotions are only just deciding to catch up and look for healing help.

I honestly don't know whats worse, this torture of my thoughts going crazy or the constipation that came with chemo (I still don't poo the same!)

So please, someone tell me how to get rid of Samantha
And if anyone has any advice that doesn't come in a leaflet, that would be fab. I know we are ALL different in our cancer but there has to be someone out there who's had all this too!"

I definitely couldn't have put it any better myself Sam, and many thanks for letting me use this incredible piece. To hear more from Sam you can follow her on Twitter @sam_lightyear
or keep up to date via her blog

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