When you're a teenager, sex, relationships, self-esteem and everything in-between can be tricky to navigate, but, to churn out an old cliché, they're all valuable parts of growing up. But what happens when you throw cancer into the equation?
Suddenly, as well as having to figure out what your identity actually is, you're now forced to think about issues like your own mortality, which you're probably thinking are waaaaay too mature for your age. You're given no option but to question which path your future is going to take. And this extends to beyond whether you're applying to the same sixth form as your mates, or if you'll be lucky enough to squeeze in a pre-uni gap year. It's about whether you even have a future at all.
On top of the host of standard young issues and looking at your health from brand new eyes, juggling the effects of a teenage cancer diagnosis means you'll also be making the hospital your second home. Oh, and probably going bald. And being sick for reasons other than the standard teenage hangover. And the list goes on.
So basically, having cancer at this age can be a pretty confusing time. But luckily, the cancer support charity for young people, CLIC Sargent, is here to help!
As soon as I started chemo for the blood cancer Hodgkins Lymphoma when I was 15 in 2011, I heard about CLIC Sargent, thanks to Orlando Fuller, their social worker at my hospital, Birmingham Children's. His friendly face was always a source of reassurance to me, and I knew Orlando would be happy to answer any questions I might have.
CLIC Sargent has now launched a new guide to help young people deal with the especially tricky challenge of dealing with relationships, dating and sex when living with cancer. It's well worth a read - www.clicsargent.org.uk/relationships.
Issues of relationships, safe sex, body image, sexuality and communicating with professionals and loved ones are perhaps of added importance when it comes to young cancer patients. Within this field of healthcare, it can become all too easy for the emphasis to be solely on the disease itself. But it's crucial to not neglect the welfare side of things when you have so much to deal with.
I spoke to ovarian cancer survivor Beckii Handy, who's now 20. I met Beckii in 2011, when we were both 15 and suddenly finding ourselves with cancer, and, thanks to the close young people network in Birmingham, we've been able to see each-other and the rest of our Teenage Cancer Trust group regularly in the subsequent years, despite now both being at university.
Beckii told me, 'During treatment, trying to maintain a relationship and trying to survive is nearly impossible. You can't focus all your attention on either treatment or the relationship, or you're going to lose something. That said, I know of those who've only become stronger as a couple through cancer. Me? No, I'd never do it again. However, after treatment, it's absolutely incredible to have someone help build you up. After all the rubbish, it's nice to be called beautiful when you take your wig off, it's nice to be supported in the transition back to 'reality' or 'normality' or whatever they're trying to call it these days!'
I think Beckii summarises a lot of young cancer patients' thoughts about relationships while on treatment, but everyone is different, and it's also really valuable to gain the perspectives of social workers and medical professionals. The whole area seems like a bit of a minefield, which is why I'm fully supporting CLIC Sargent's new guide in making trying to understand the whole thing that little bit easier!