A story about cancer that's NOT heartbreaking or inspirational...


If I tell you that this is a story about cancer, my guess is that you’ll think it’s going to be heartbreaking or inspirational. You know what, it’s not going to be either. No unhappy endings and no heroics. It’s about the everydayness of cancer, and what comes next.

We’ve all heard that outcomes are improved if cancer’s found early, and we often hear about medical breakthroughs. It’s true – with early detection and improved treatment more and more people are surviving cancer. But what happens next?

Yvonne and Pauline

If you haven’t experienced cancer, then you’re likely to think that the mountain climb comes next. Or the book deal. Or attempting to get 1,000,000 facebook ‘likes’ for kicking cancer’s butt. At the very least, you can expect a damn good party, right?

Wrong. It’s actually after the end of treatment that many cancer survivors find that they struggle. They’ve had a lot of support during treatment – hard to refuse a request from a bald person – but when that’s all done and dusted, there’s a lot of pressure to pick yourself back up and move on.

But life has changed.

Young adults (that’s usually under 45) who have finished treatment may find themselves facing some issues that affect them differently because of their age and diagnosis. They can struggle to adjust back to some kind of “normality”. This is further impacted by lack of understanding. There are few support services for young cancer survivors, and the support that’s in place is often not what they are looking for.

Many cancers common in young adults are treatable but with treatment comes a price tag. If chemotherapy is part of the regime, it may come at the cost of their fertility. This isn’t going to be an issue if you’ve already had your family or if you’re past your childbearing days. But for many young adults it’s come smack bang in the middle of this time, leaving a huge C shaped hole.

The Workshop is being held Saturday 29th June and 13th July.

The treatment might involve surgery which results in scars and big changes to their bodies. There’s a world of difference between a 75 year old woman who’s been married for 50 years and has had a mastectomy and a 32 year old single woman who has had the same. (And anyone who’s seen a mastectomy bra could be forgiven for thinking that it only happened to older women.)

Or imagine trying to be ‘just one of the guys’ when you’re 28 years old and the only one of your mates with a colostomy bag, a result of bowel cancer treatment. There are the guys in your support group who understand, of course. They’re your dad’s age.

Cancer Council NSW recognises the needs of people who have successfully finished their cancer treatment (and their carers or mates) and established the Cancer Survivorship Unit in 2012. Part of this is the Young Adult Support Project, which looks at issues unique to young adults, like fertility, relationships, careers and finances at this particular time of life.

These issues and more will be covered at a free workshop, in Central Sydney, run by the Cancer Council. It’s for all cancer survivors aged between 18 and 45 who have finished their treatment (including childhood cancer survivors). Run over two Saturday mornings, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about how to deal with survivorship issues and to meet other people facing the same challenges. Childcare can be arranged if needed.

More and more people are surviving cancer. It’s not just an older person’s disease, it’s one that will affect people you know, and some of them will be people your age.

So write this down, forward it on, facebook it, tweet it. Register for the workshop by texting Sh!t cancer dumps to 0400 888 033 (cost of a standard call) or emailing

Pauline Shilkin is the Coordinator of the Young Adult Support Project. She started work at Cancer Council NSW before her own cancer experience and returned after, so she totally gets survivorship issues. Yvonne Hughes has recently published a book called One Piece of Advice: Words to guide you through early breast cancer, which came about following her breast cancer journey. Yvonne and Pauline bonded over boobs but can now talk about other things. Neither need their hats anymore.