Today, we would like to encourage you to think back to your teenage years, where you were and what you were doing or thinking. Being a teenager is pretty tough – it’s all about 'fitting in'. So imagine a cancer diagnosis at this time, redefining a young person’s life, challenging their sense of identity, threatening their sense of belonging, when “fitting in” is everything to them, anxieties about their body image are heightened and all their relationships are challenged and impacted. Cancer is disruptive to a young person’s journey towards independence, achievement of their goals and aspirations.
So, something like PTSD should not be a surprise, but cancer (or indeed any long-term, life-threatening illness) does not feature as a cause on the NHS website featuring known causes of this mental health condition. Azreen, shares her story:
A common misconception about no longer being in cancers tight, vice-like grip is that being supposedly “tumour free” means that you’re automatically healthy again.
Apparently, the lack of malformed cells in, or on, your body now means that you are free to resume the life you were living months/years ago.
That’s not the case.
It’s no breaking news that cancer is a traumatic experience. So why does nobody talk about the PTSD that comes after cancer? I’m sure my 'cancer friends' can relate to the; insomnia, lack of motivation, emotional numbing, anxiety and nightmares. The motivation to do the things you love is gone. You can spend an entire day lying on your back doing nothing and still feel completely exhausted and find yourself dumbfounded when you're asked "so what do you do all day?". In actual fact, I'm not being lazy. I'm in a constant battle with myself every day. There's a constant battle between; wanting to be a normal teen, and have fun, and actually find it in yourself to get out of bed early and put something other than pyjamas on. Between; wanting to be a success and make a difference in the world, and actually feeling like you're capable of applying for that job. Between; wanting to feel loved and wanted, and feeling like a burden.
It's expected of you to love life so much, appreciate every moment, and be such an inspiration to the world, but...you used all your spark to fight for a life you no longer know how to live.
We are so pressured to get back into normal life after cancer that we forget that we need time for not only our bodies to heal from the surgeries and chemotherapy and medicines, but for our minds to collect themselves after what can only be described as a mental earthquake.
But after going through what we went through, who are we to complain about a few sleepless nights or a tiny bit of anxiety?…c’mon, just be grateful you’re alive? (Right?). It’s almost easy to feel guilty for having anxiety about being healthy! But as mentioned in the previous post, a tiny bump under the skin, a headache, a little leg pain is always exaggerated in our minds to the point of almost insanity at the prospect of this bump, or pain being more cancer. It’s like life is constantly spent looking around the corner warily waiting to be hit by the cancer wall (again).
It's no surprise that there is a whole team of psychologists present at the Macmillan Centre for anyone who feels they need support, from just getting their lives back on track, to dealing with depression, to learning to love themselves again after losing a limb, normal body functions or their fertility. It's not as simple to just "move on" from cancer as you would move on from a winter cold or an infection. The 'BUPA' advert makes it look as simple as having your hair grow back and feeling okay with your new scar.
There are many repercussions of cancer.
Many issues become an obstacle when the stress of 'being normal again' becomes apparent. One year on, you're still crying in pain after a day shopping because you thought you'd be fine, but your body has been so de-conditioned that simply searching the high street for a pair of socks is a monumental task. How could someone possibly expect us to work 9am-5pm Monday to Friday?
Oh, yeah. Work.
Even when your body is somewhat ready to go out into the world again, the absence of self-confidence, and the capability of your mind and body is gripping. Can I cope with the pressures of working? What about all my hospital appointments? What happens if I relapse? Will my body be able to keep up with me? What about all the social anxiety surrounding meeting new people? Do I talk about my cancer at interviews?...Do I consider myself disabled, yes or no, which box do I tick?!?
So you see, the cancer journey is not just the physical treatment; it's not the weekly IV, injections and tablets, or the constant vomiting and other side effects. It's also the sleepless night before the clinic appointments and scan results. It's gritting your teeth trying not to scream about how tired you are because you're aware people may be sick of hearing it. It's struggling between "my cancer journey shaped me" and "my cancer journey doesn't define me".
The journey does not end once the poison has stopped coursing through your veins. It carries on. Cancer is a paradox. It weakens you, and strengthens you. It builds you up, and tears you down. It teaches you, and confuses you. It's a means to a new life, and simultaneously sucks all the life out of you. So, when it comes to 'moving on'...it's not that easy. The post trauma and the mental scarring almost...ALMOST measures deeper than the physical scars of where you've been poked, skewered, and sliced open. Cancer's tenacious grip threatens your future, not only the existence of it, but the quality of it.”
If you would like to help us support more young people deal with not just the diagnosis and the treatment, but the long-term effects cancer has on their mental health, please donate to our Christmas Stars Appeal today.
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Volunteering with Teens Unite has changed my personality and outlook on life. When I hear all the amazing things the teens say about Teens Unite, I can tell they mean every word.
Teens Unite isn't just a charity to me, it was the beginning of restarting my life.
When Elliot started receiving the support of Teens Unite, I could see a change in him straightaway. His outlook on life was becoming positive again and I gained strength from seeing my little boy accepting what had happened and starting to move forward.
I needed help and that's where Teens Unite came in. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and the reason I met Teens Unite was to save my life.
With Teens Unite, I finally realised that I could climb out of this massive hole that I had been digging because I wasn't alone anymore.
If it wasn't for Teens Unite, I wouldn't be where I am now. They have been really supportive and given me the strength to push myself and not give up.