Thursday 19th August 2021
Jonas, who works in film and TV production, was diagnosed at 23 with microcystic adnexal carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer, on his face. He has been treated at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital and Guy’s Hospital in London
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had grown on the right side of my face around my eye and cheek. I had several surgeries to remove the tumour and continue to get regular check-ups.
My cancer treatment left me struggling for the first time with what life would truly look like. At first, the occasional negative thought would emerge, then it became consistent and gradually impacted my mental health and behaviour.
Fortunately, I was welcomed to the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer team and they’ve been crucial in helping me. Very early on, they suggested psychological support but, honestly speaking, I was sceptical and unsure of how it would help. Not to place blame, but in my background, therapy is still very much a taboo topic. In the end, I ultimately knew I had nothing to lose in agreeing to meet with a therapist.
Because of the pandemic, we were unable to meet face-to-face, so our weekly sessions took place virtually. The first one was the hardest, especially the first couple of minutes because I had no idea what to say or expect.
I knew I had nothing to lose in agreeing to meet with a therapist.
Initially it was a challenge to express how cancer was affecting me mentally. I quickly realised that I could be myself during the sessions. I could share openly and know that I was being listened to without judgement.
For me, the exercises and the reflections have been the most useful part of my therapy. They were never daunting or pressured but they were gradual safe steps to help me progress at my own pace. I still have more to work on, inside and out, but looking back to my first session, I’m glad I logged in and made it past the first two minutes with my therapist.
To anyone going through cancer treatment and finding it mentally challenging, I was once there and understand how isolating it can feel. It’s a gradual journey and the best thing is knowing that you don’t have to do it alone.
I believed no one could truly understand me but I now realise that therapy has helped me understand myself better and what I am capable of. My cancer diagnosis doesn’t define me and therapy is helping me live this truth a day at a time.
- Read: 'I thought about giving up during cancer, but I got through it'
- Read: Why is mental health support so important for young people with cancer?
Kathryn was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 22 years old and was treated at Guy’s Hospital in London. Three years on from finishing treatment, she discusses the way therapy has helped her rebuild her life after cancer
After my diagnosis, everything was like a rollercoaster. I had my eggs frozen before starting chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Having to move back home, pause my studies and endure gruelling treatment left me lost and anxious. It was hard to process my own mortality and deal mentally with the effects of treatment.
I desperately wanted people to contact me and cheer me up, but I found that many friends and family were busy with their own lives and didn’t know how to approach me.
The psychological support I received was just as important as the physical treatment
I started having sessions with Clare, a Teenage and Young Adult psychologist, just after I got my diagnosis. She helped me so much with my worries and difficulties and helped me feel normal during surreal times. She listened to all my anxieties about treatment, my studies, friends, dating and family. The psychological support I received during and after my cancer treatment was just as important as the physical treatment because it can feel so lonely and scary.
- Read: How to ask for help if cancer is affecting your mental health
- Read: 'During cancer I was the most depressed I've ever been'
I was shocked by the impact having cancer had on my mental health after treatment was over. It was so hard having to rebuild my life and process what I had been through. It was hard finding the confidence to sell myself to employers and find a job after treatment. I remember feeling like I had lost my soul and felt depressed.
Clare helped me to create hopes for my future. After treatment, I abseiled down Guy’s Hospital for charity, joined a choir and travelled abroad by myself. This all helped me to gain confidence, one step at a time.
A couple of years after treatment I retrained in psychology. I was so inspired by Clare and I’m now training as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. I feel like my experiences have massively shaped me as a person and I treasure the perspective I now have on life. Who knows, one day I could help young people with cancer just like Clare helped me.
If you’re a young person going through cancer and you feel you’re struggling with your mental health, please do speak to your clinical team, Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse or Youth Support Coordinator. They’ll do whatever they can to help you, which may include referring you to specialist support.
If you or someone else is in crisis and needs urgent help or further support, please visit: https://www.teenagecancertrust.org/get-help/urgent-help