By Kirsty Wetmore, Senior Clinician
My name is Kirsty Wetmore and I'm a Senior Clinician at Canteen. Based in Brisbane, I support young people aged 12 to 25 as well as their parents who are impacted by cancer.
When we think about youth cancer, the focus is often on the number of young people diagnosed (around 1,000 a year) and their medical treatment. It is incredibly important that young cancer patients get specialist, age-appropriate care, which is why Canteen advocated for the Youth Cancer Services as well as increased funding for clinical trials.
But what about when treatment finishes? Many young people I work with tell me that this can be even more challenging. Family or friends might be expecting them to go back to their ‘normal selves’, but some feel like a profoundly different person.
Every young person’s cancer experience is different. They might feel differently about their relationships or their body. Their body might actually be different and no longer able to do everything it could before. They might be struggling to get their education or career plans back on track – while watching friends graduate or start jobs - or have completely different priorities in life now that treatment is over.
So finding a ‘new normal’ in their life after cancer can be really challenging and can often leave young people feeling quite alone and vulnerable. In fact, almost a quarter of young cancer survivors experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress (my colleague, Dr Pandora Patterson, wrote about this in The Conversation).
Canteen provides a wide range of support services aimed at reducing that mental health impact.
The Education and Career Support Service (ECS), for example, helps young people get back into school, tertiary education, or work. Many of the young people I've worked with have said that having an ECS consultant in their corner advocating for them has helped so much and taken a lot of anxiety away.
It’s also really important for young people in this situation to know that they’re not alone. I hear a lot of young people say that while they love their friends, they just ‘don’t get it’ and that they’d like to meet others who have gone through the same thing. Peer support – connecting with other young people in similar situations – has been at the core of Canteen since we were established in 1985.
Young cancer survivors can connect with each other through our online community Canteen Connect as well as programs like SPACE or Places You’ll Go. We’re also working with the University of Queensland to develop a new wellbeing program for young cancer survivors.
Our team of clinicians, like me, work with young people individually to navigate the psychological, social, emotional and practical changes they’re dealing with and to help them identify what their different tomorrow looks like. I think that's a vital part of what we do.