A Survivor's Advice for Helping Teens With Cancer

A Survivor's Advice for Helping Teens With Cancer


Three years ago, at age 17, I was diagnosed with melanoma. As I learned, cancer is tough, especially for teens, who often think they are immune to it.

For teens, a cancer diagnosis isn’t expected at all. Most teens think that they aren’t susceptible to any type of cancer. As parents and adults, the best thing we can do is educate young people about the dangers of cancer, and how every little thing -- sunburns, not using sunscreen, not taking care of yourself -- can affect you, now or later.

When dealing with a teen who has cancer, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Teens are scared

First of all, even though they may not show it, they are scared.

Teens don’t spend their time researching cancer and other diseases, so fear of the unknown is great. A lot of times, teens will try to act like adults and be strong after finding out they have cancer, but the news can often be too much for the teen mind to comprehend.

Let teens come to you at their own pace

Teens also don’t really like asking for help. When I had cancer, I constantly had to ask for help -- help carrying my heavy bags, help cleaning my bandages and help driving to appointments. Teens want to do it all, so having to rely a lot on others during cancer treatment and surgeries is a definite lifestyle change.

It’s important to be supportive and available, but let the teen come to you at his or her own pace.

Respect communication wishes

Often, many teens will not want to talk about their cancer with people they know. Cancer can seem like a “weakness,” and teens want to feel invincible and youthful.

It took me three years before I felt completely comfortable sharing my story with anyone except those who are very close to me. As a parent or guardian, keep this in mind. Your teen may not want everyone in the world knowing that they have cancer, so be respectful of that. Cancer is a hard enough thing to deal with as a young person without the constant questions and comments that others will have.

Support makes a difference

Cancer is scary, especially for people who think they have many years to go before they have to think about it. Make sure you’re available for the teen in your life. She's not a teenager with cancer, she's just a teenager. Cancer doesn’t define anyone, and getting it at a young age should do nothing to deter a person’s feelings about herself or what she can accomplish.

As an adult, encourage the teens around you to go to their dermatologists regularly for skin checks. It might be hard to fit into a teen’s busy schedule, but it is absolutely worth it.

Source: MD Anderson Cancer Center

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