Friends and Family are Important When a Teen Has Cancer
By Ellie Foster, MPH
Program Manager, MaineHealth Education & Training Program
Being an adolescent is difficult enough, with school pressures, complicated peer relationships and navigating the emotions that the teenage years bring. Imagine then being told you have a life threatening illness and you must begin intensive treatment that may cause intense side effects. Now, on top of the everyday stress of being a teen, you will likely lose your hair and may need to miss the bulk of the next school year. If you are watching a teen you love struggle with cancer, it’s only natural for you to want to learn how to best support them. But sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why I asked Deirdre Hogan, LCSW Pediatric Oncology Social Worker from Maine Children’s Cancer Program, to share some tips about how to support a teen that has cancer.
Deidre says the biggest theme she has noticed is how important it is for a teen to find comfort and consistency. “With so much sudden upheaval and change with a diagnosis of cancer, holding onto and maintaining things that make a teen happy and bring them comfort, especially relationships with family and friends, are of vital importance.”
Sometimes, even the people closest to the teen may not be sure what to say or how to act after a cancer diagnosis. Here are some tips teens have shared with Deidre that helped them during treatment.
- Try not to forget that they are still the same person as they were before they had cancer, they just happen to be going through a hard time at the moment.
- Keep reminding the teen that you are there for them. It does make a difference. Keep calling, texting and visiting when you can.
- Laughter is truly the best medicine, keep the humor rolling. Know that it isn’t personal when they may not be feeling up for a visit or connecting, they may just not feel great.
- Even though the teen is going through something you may not understand, you can always ask questions – don’t be afraid to be real.
There is one thing that has greatly surprised Deidre in working with adolescents with cancer. “The vast majority have told me at the end of their treatment that they greatly appreciate the perspective cancer has brought to their lives and they know they are stronger for enduring all facets of the treatment process, maybe not in the moment, but definitely in the “rear view mirror”. Support from loved ones can be an essential part of helping a teen with cancer gain that perspective. Don’t underestimate how powerful your words and actions can be.
For more information about the Maine Children’s Cancer program, visit their website.
If you would like more information on this, or any other health related topic, the health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.