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After Treatment

The stories of young women who have been through the cancer process and the fears they have for the future.

Young women are still trying to figure out their identities, their careers or even being in their first adult relationships.

The Teenage Cancer Trust says that around seven young people aged between 13 and 24 are diagnosed with cancer everyday in the UK.

Even though there is a high 80% survival rate, 30% of survivors have a chronic health condition or on-going health-related problems.

Teenage Cancer Trust has 28 specialist centres across the UK to improve the quality of life and the chances of survival within the age group.

Louise Scott, Teenage Cancer Trust regional manager for the South West and East based at Southampton Hospital said that teenagers are the “emitting age group”.

Teenage cancer patients can decide if they would like to be treated at one of the specialist units or at their local hospitals. Louise said: “We know that young people stand a much better chance of survival if they’re treated on one of our units.”

Doctor Bob Phillips, who has been working at Leeds Hospital and has been specialising in childhood and teenager cancers for 14 years.

He explains that childhood cancers are more responsive to treatment of chemotherapy, making it easier to cure.

Comparing treatment to adults, “Young adult bodies can cope with the treatment intensity a lot more. That might be part of why childhood cancers seems to be more curable than adult cancers.”

Teens Unite is one of the many charities that provide fun days out for teenagers with cancer.

Teen Support Co-ordinator Georgia Sorell, who is in remission from cancer, talks about how Teens Unite made her feel like she wasn’t alone.

Georgia was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 21.

“It does completely turn your life upside down and it’s almost like you have to put your life on hold for a year or two or however long it is. You haven’t had a chance to live your life”.

She was treated for just over a year before going into remission where Teens Unite offered her a job to help young patients in the same situation she had been in, “That’s the nice part, a group of people that have something in common and that thing is cancer but they never talk about it at all. We are just normal young people”.

Within a month of each other, Georgia and a school friend Elizabeth were both given the news of having cancer in 2014.

Elizabeth Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 21.

In two weeks, they removed the tumour and she was given 6 months of chemotherapy and now has to have monthly injections and hormone drugs.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, women are more likely than men to have a common mental problem.

A Mental Health Foundation expert has stated that, “Mental health should be a core component of the assessment and ongoing support for people of all ages with physical health conditions including teenagers with cancer”.

Getting diagnosed with a mental health problem whilst or after having cancer can be seen as predictable.

Georgia says she is fortunate to have had Teens Unite, “but there are so many young people who we support who say that after having cancer is the hardest part because they are with other people with cancer and then it’s all over and they just feel really lost and depressed. I know so many people depressed after cancer than during treatment.”

Laura Salvada-Boussi was finishing her first year at Bournemouth University when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was 18.

“It didn’t sink in. I didn’t expect it to be cancer.”

She had two months of treatment before the cancer disappeared in 2015.

Laura felt that close friends and family were the best option rather than seeking mental based help from the NHS and charities, “I was kind of independent. I didn’t like talking to people unless they were my friends. They don’t know what you’re going through, they know how to make you laugh and going through a psychiatrist wasn’t going to help.”

The ‘ideal body’ that is displayed through the media and social media such as Instagram can be hard to reach even without cancer.

The problem is not during treatment but after.

Georgia was straight back into the gym as soon as she was in remission, “I was doing different classes every night just to try and get my strength back up. I think it’s because there are so many ideas of what the perfect body should look like. People put a lot of pressure on themselves especially straight out of treatment.”

Laura felt that the worse part was after treatment, “After treatment, you’re like okay I need to get back on track now. But you don’t know what back on track is. After treatment, everything is different, the way you see things and everything kind of changes”.

Elizabeth said that her body image affected her much more than her mental health, after being diagnosed she felt that her own body made her feel sick, “things like being with my boyfriend, I didn’t want him to touch me. I hated the idea of him being anywhere near me.”

Hair loss can be one of the most traumatic times towards affecting body image.

At first Elizabeth was worried about losing her hair but then she started wearing wigs, “I still wear them now because I really like wearing them. At first I hated the idea of being bald. It’s got to the point now where my hair is growing back and I don’t want to stop wearing wigs”.

Georgia was offered a wig from the Little Princess Trust however she preferred going bald and wearing hats rather than wearing wigs, “I felt more comfortable but it doesn’t mean I liked it”.

After going through treatment Elizabeth did not realise that her fertility could be at risk after undergoing treatment, “When you’re our age, especially for girls it brings in a lot of questions about your fertility after treatment.

“When I first got diagnosed it didn’t even occur to me that it would be a problem obviously when they told me this might affect your fertility I think that became my main sort of worry”

She preserved her fertility by getting her eggs frozen, “I’ve got a backup but I know a few people that don’t get that opportunity.”

Laura had a fertility scare when she did not get her period three months after finishing chemotherapy, “I thought ‘oh my god I can’t have children’. It was really worrying.”

After surviving cancer, there is always the looming fear that it will come back.

After finding out from a gene test that Elizabeth had a 65% chance of the cancer returning, she has planned to have a mastectomy this summer to heighten her chances of survival.

Laura and Elizabeth both said they check themselves every night before bed to make sure it has not come back.

Laura said, “You always think it’s going to come back but you have to push it to the back of your mind.”

Georgia finds that cancer does not always have to be negative, “Everybody’s cancer story is completely different and I think you need to find the positivity in it. You can either let cancer beat you or you can beat it and even if your health is not beating it, mentally you can still beat it.”