Melinda Hutchings of Canteen writes:
This Mother’s Day, youth cancer charity CanTeen reaches out to young Australians aged 12-24 who have been devastated by their mum’s cancer diagnosis.
Research conducted by CanTeen, in collaboration with Sydney University, revealed that a shocking 75% of young people aged 16-24 years who have a parent with cancer display high or very high levels of psychological distress. This compares to just 9% of young people in the general population.
At this time of year, the impact of a mother’s illness can be particularly hard to deal with. Lachlan, who has lived with his mum since his parent’s divorce when he was two years old, knows the heartbreak only too well. “When you’re 13 and have just started high school you don’t think about your mum dying – you don’t even consider it. So it was a very big shock to find out mum had cancer.”
Lachlan found out the day of his team soccer photos last year. “Mum was late and I was waiting at home in my soccer clothes,” he said. “When I got in the car I could tell she’d been crying. We started driving and she burst into tears. I didn’t know what was happening and automatically started crying because mum was crying. I asked her ‘what’s wrong’ and she didn’t want to tell me. When we arrived at soccer she said ‘I might have breast cancer’. Everything went quiet. I felt like my heart stopped. I didn’t want to get out of the car.”
Lachlan’s soccer coach and his mum encouraged him to join his team mates in the club house.
“I had the photo taken and wasn’t thinking about soccer just about mum. I felt scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I couldn’t think of anything but mum. You can see in the soccer photo that I have red eyes because I’d been crying. I’ll never forget that day.”
Every year 15,000 young Australians have a parent diagnosed with cancer, which can have a devastating impact on a young person. A cancer diagnosis causes fear and uncertainty and can threaten the security of a young person’s world, leaving them feeling vulnerable, frightened and confused.
“The hardest thing about mum’s cancer was the possibility that she could die. I didn’t want to lose her. I thought I’d be with her forever and ever and to realise that might not happen and for the rest of my life I’d be without mum was the scariest thing ever,” says Lachlan.
“The other thing that was hard was that mum couldn’t be at my soccer games any more. When she’s there she cheers so loudly I can hear her from the other side of the field. So to not have her there was upsetting.”
Lachlan was overjoyed when his mum was let out of hospital for his Semi-final. “She came to the game with all of her drains still in, trying to walk, which was painful because the drains moved in and out with every step. She sat down and cheered as hard as she could. It was one of the best games I played.”
CanTeen ensures that for any young person dealing with their parent’s cancer diagnosis, there is help available.
CanTeen’s FREE resource book, Now What…? Dealing with your parent’s cancer provides age-appropriate information and advice to help a young person effectively work through the feelings of shock and anxiety and adjust to the changes in their life.
In addition to its free peer support and respite and recreation programs, CanTeen also provides a specialised free counselling service for young people who have a parent with cancer, or whose parent has died from cancer. Courtesy of a $1.5million grant from nib foundation, CanTeen’s Offspring Support Program offers face-to-face, telephone and online/email counselling for young people aged 12-24 throughout Australia.
No matter where a young person is on their cancer journey or how their life has been impacted, CanTeen provides a safe environment where they can learn how to deal with the emotional, physical and practical issues of living with cancer and take back control of their lives.
“I’m very grateful for CanTeen,” says Lachlan. “Once they picked me up from my house and we went to Treetops. I would never have dreamed of going somewhere like that, I had so much fun. The people at CanTeen have generous hearts and they genuinely want to help.”
Lachlan says he has matured as a result of his cancer journey and is looking forward to spoiling his mum this Mother’s Day. “I want to make Mother’s Day really special for mum. I’ve been making a jewellery cabinet at school and I’m going to decorate it and put a surprise in it, like bath salts. Life doesn’t go on forever so it’s important to make special time with loved ones and have the best time you’ll remember for the rest of your life. The thing that excites me most about the future is knowing I have more time with my mum. That’s the best feeling ever.”
Make a donation this Mother’s Day to help young people like Lachlan who are living with cancer get their lives back on track- go to www.canteen.org.au
More information about CanTeen’s Offspring Support Program counselling service is available by calling 1800 226 833.