What does it mean to be a survivor of cancer when you are a young child or adolescent? For everyone diagnosed with cancer, the decisions of what type of treatment to have and how and where to have it are important and being young has its own set of issues.
For children, this is compounded even more so because it is the parents that are trying to make the best choices for the long-term health of their child. Because the life of a child is at stake, fast decisions are often made when there is a cancer diagnosis. Parents want to do all they can to treat their child’s cancer. When treating children, the possible side effects and life long consequences of decisions that are made can be challenging for young people as they grow up.
What is My “Normal” as a Survivor of Childhood Cancer?
Young survivors of cancer are challenged with how to be a child dealing with cancer in a peer group of healthy kids. Children are very resilient and are great at finding ways to continue to be kids. They also need some help in understanding how to live with the day to day and often lifetime issues of how cancer and treatment have affected their bodies. Follow up care for childhood cancer can last well into young adulthood.
One of the options that would be helpful for young survivors would be the availability of support groups. There are many groups available for adults, but not as many for younger people. Support groups can be particularly helpful for adolescents and young adults who need support in navigating survivorship issues.
Cancer Challenges for Young Adults
Apart from the issues of trying to feel normal and fit in with a peer group population that is healthy, there are many other concerns that present themselves to young survivors of cancer. One of them is the need for lifelong follow up care. It is tough to go on with your life when your medical history continues to present itself on a regular basis.
Dating and finding a life partner can be particularly challenging for young survivors. At what point in the process does a person tell someone that they have had cancer, knowing that it could be too much for someone to handle? When they first meet? After the relationship has begun to establish itself? It is a tricky road to travel. Too soon and a person could feel as if they are “oversharing” very private information and too late they may feel as if they are keeping secrets.
How and when someone has “the conversation” is an additional stressor for young survivors. Often times, one of the side effects of cancer treatment as a young person is infertility as an adult. This can be a make or break issue for a potential partner who may want to have biological children.
As genetic predispositions are tested for on a more regular basis, young people may be aware of their genetic predispositions to certain types of cancers. Survivors and previvors have made decisions to have prophylactic mastectomies and hysterectomies. They may also be predisposed to other cancers in the future.
These are hard things to share when someone is just dating and falling “in like” with someone. Finding a partner who can handle a person’s history and their possible health concerns in the future is a whole lot more complicated for a young person who has had cancer touch their lives.
Being diagnosed and treated for cancer as a child or adolescent is a challenge for the entire family. As that person grows into young adulthood, there are many issues that unfortunately they are left to deal with. The more resources available to help young people with these difficult issues, the better!