How teens battling cancer are being helped during the festive seasons
Cancer is terrifying at any age, but for a young person it brings its own set of tough and unique challenges – as teenager Molly Trevor knows only too well.
At just 15 she became one of the thousands of 13 to 24-year-olds in the UK who are diagnosed with the disease during those special, vulnerable and formative years.
For Molly, gruelling treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while friends studied for GCSEs and posted their social lives online proved lonely and isolating. Her illness meant she was in hospital last Christmas – so frail she was in a wheelchair.
But thanks to support from the Teenage Cancer Trust, Molly was treated alongside other patients her age by specialist nurses in comfortable, sociable facilities.
It made such a difference. And that is why the Sunday Mirror Christmas Campaign is this year supporting teens and young adults getting cancer treatment through the festive season.
We’re asking our readers to donate to the charity and back its #GiveAnHour appeal to raise cash for specialised nurses and support workers.
Molly, who is almost 17, is now in remission. She said: “I was shocked when I was diagnosed. One minute I was preparing for Year 11 and the next I had six rounds of chemo, spending 180 nights in hospital.
“On top of the illness I had a massive fear of missing out as all my friends were on social media posting what they were doing. I couldn’t have fun. I won’t forget the support from the Teenage Cancer Trust.
"We were separated from the babies and young children and able to hang out with others our age in a fun environment.
“The friendships I made with other patients were so important. We supported one another.”
Molly is not alone. Around seven young people aged 13 to 24 are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK. Which is why this campaign is so vital.
Liz Tait, director of fundraising at the charity, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as the Sunday Mirror’s Christmas campaign.
“Christmas should be a time for family, friends, laughter and celebration – not cancer. Thousands of young people are facing it, and the Teenage Cancer Trust will make sure they have all the support they need.”
For Molly, of Spalding, Lincs, the charity’s work is priceless. She said: “The charity’s nurses had more time for me than nurses on other wards as they weren’t always rushing about. They’d sit and chat with me. And the support worker would organise things for us.
“Last December we made decorations, helped put lights up and did other activities.”
Molly was diagnosed with her illness – which hits white blood cells and the immune system – in August 2017 after struggling to eat.
She spent six months undergoing chemotherapy at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
The charity has funded 28 specialist units, offering a home for young people. Some have bedrooms with TVs, DVDs, laptops and games.
During her time on the ward, Molly contracted sepsis and spent five days in an induced coma.
She was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last December. She was discharged before Christmas, but on December 23 developed an infection and was admitted to her local hospital, only to be let out late on Christmas Day.
Molly said: “I couldn’t walk. I was so tired I can barely remember it. It was miserable.”
The teen – who lives with her parents Ian and Silke, both 51 – had physio to rebuild the strength to walk and got the all-clear in February.
Despite missing a year of school she passed her GCSEs and is now doing A-levels in health and social care, chosen because of her experience. She says: “I am so grateful to the Teenage Cancer Trust. Everything’s looking much brighter.”
Owen Bentley knows how vital the Teenage Cancer Trust can be when facing the terrifying ordeal of a cancer diagnosis.
He was told he had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in early 2018 at 17 after suffering leg pains for a year. Owen was treated on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, where he has received four rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant this year.
Now 18, the former student had a stem cell top-up this week and is hoping to be put in remission in 2019. He said the Teenage Cancer Trust helped him through a very hard year.
“When I was diagnosed it was a surreal experience. I began chemotherapy days later. Soon after I came down with a chest infection and conjunctivitis. I felt awful, just so miserable,” said Owen of Cannock, West Mids. “But the Teenage Cancer Trust made it more bearable. There was a pizza night and breakfast morning on the unit.
“They helped keep my mind off the cancer a bit, which was good.”
Owen had his stem cell transplant in August and spent a month in hospital in isolation to avoid getting infections. He said: “I spent my 18th birthday there with only close family allowed to visit. My grandad couldn’t come as he had a cold. It was really rough.”
He was discharged after the transplant but readmitted in September for nine days with an infection. “When I was discharged again the charity’s key support co-ordinator Sarah texted to see how I was – it’s nice to know she’s always there if I need her,” he said. “I’ve spent time on normal wards too, but because I was 17 nurses never knew whether to put me with children or adults – or how to treat me.
“But at the unit there was a girl a year younger than me and shortly after that a lad the same age. It really helped having people to talk to.”
His mum Lucy, 50, said: “The Teenage Cancer Trust helps parents too. You can speak to other parents about what you and your family are going through, knowing they get it. And the nurses take the time to chat. It makes the whole thing more manageable.”
Owen is positive about the New Year. “It will be nice to be able to relax and celebrate,” he said.
The Who frontman Roger Daltrey is an honorary patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust and the driving force behind its Royal Albert Hall concerts since 2000.
He is so pleased the Sunday Mirror is backing the Teenage Cancer Trust. He said: “I have met many young people with cancer. They shouldn’t have to stop being teenagers. They are young people first, cancer patients second – and I am always struck by their lust for life. Half of 13 to 24-year-olds with cancer still don’t get specialist care designed for them.
“Vital support like this will help us move closer to a time when every young person who wants Teenage Cancer Trust support can get it.”
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