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Dealing with Cancer as a Teen

Cancer is always a deadly disease, but it has largely gone unnoticed in light of the recent pandemic. Each year, an estimated 400,000 people from 0-19 years old develop cancer. It is still a severe problem and is not slowing down. Cancer affects people physically, psychologically and emotionally, especially teens.


Impact

A cancer diagnosis can affect the emotional health of patients, families, and caregivers. Common feelings during this life-changing experience include anxiety, distress, and depression. Roles at home, school, and work can be affected. It's important to recognise these changes and get help when needed. Teens are often establishing their own identities at this time and developing social, emotional, and financial independence. A diagnosis of cancer can throw all of these things into disarray. During treatment, patients and their families tend to focus on the daily aspects of getting through it and beating cancer.


Emotional Impact

Just as cancer affects your physical health, it can bring up a wide range of feelings you’re not used to dealing with. It can also make existing feelings seem more intense. They may change daily, hourly, or even minute to minute. Whether you’re currently in treatment, finished with treatment, or are a friend or family member, this is true. These feelings are all normal.


Psychological Impact

The traumatic experience of having cancer places adolescents at significant risk for a range of short and long-term social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. Adolescents with cancer and childhood cancer survivors may experience severe anxiety, inhibited and withdrawn behaviour, behaviour problems, excessive somatic complaints, intense stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), academic difficulties and surrounding frustration, peer relationship difficulties, and worries about the future concerning career and relationships.


Physical Impact

Cancer can press on nearby nerves and cause pain and loss of function of one part of your body. Cancer that involves the brain can cause headaches and stroke-like signs and symptoms, such as weakness on one side of your body—unusual immune system reactions to cancer.


The most common treatment method, chemotherapy, causes myriad symptoms often related to emetogenic and myelosuppressive effects. The symptoms can be particularly distressing for adolescents. Some of the more common cancers for this age group are lymphomas, leukaemias, brain and central nervous system tumours, and carcinomas—many of which require chemotherapy as the primary treatment.


Dealing With It

It's natural for people who have learned they have cancer to feel many emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, and anxiety are common reactions to serious illness. Mindfulness-based meditation can be soothing and become a source of social support. Ask a social worker or a care team member for a list of nearby programs or try an online program at home. It can help to get to know other teens who have cancer. You can exchange information and ideas and learn how others your age have coped. Above all, remember that although you may have cancer, it's not your identity. It's an illness you are trying to overcome.


People with cancer usually have a specially trained medical team working to fight the disease. People who are having chemotherapy or radiation therapy may need help eating right because the side effects of these treatments can include loss of appetite and nausea. It may help to talk with a dietitian, a professional who can create a nutrition plan geared to your specific needs. Exercise can also help a person stay healthy during recovery. If you're being treated for cancer, your cancer care team can tell you whether you should exercise, how much, and whether physical therapy might help. When you can exercise, find out which types will help to increase your strength and stamina. Even gentle walking can go a long way to helping people with cancer feel better overall.

 

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