Does everyone feel the same as I do?

To be diagnosed as having cancer at any age will come as a shock, with confusion, sadness and anxiety. But is it particularly hard on young people, with their whole life ahead of them?
Young people we spoke to felt overwhelmed by questions like: Will I live? Am I going to get better? Will I be able to cope with the treatment? Will the treatment work?, What if it does not work? 
People felt that their emotions were 'up & down' like a see-saw. One moment people can feel incredibly low, the next they are on top of things. Much of how they feel depends on what stage they are at in their diagnosis and treatment and what unwanted side effects they have. However no two people respond in exactly the same way. For instance, some young people said that lumbar punctures (a needle inserted via the skin of your back into the canal surrounding the spinal cord between your vertebrae whilst using local anaesthetic) worried them more than any other aspect of their treatment.
But they felt that having a positive mental attitude towards their illness and their recovery helped them. Many remember developing ’a fighting attitude’ towards cancer. One girl, who was 17 years old at the time, said, ’It was me and the chemotherapy against the cancer, quite a powerful weapon really’.

Some young people, quite naturally, felt very 'angry' with themselves, their doctors, parents and friends and with the cancer itself. Some were angry with themselves if they thought that they weren't coping as well as they should. Others again felt that nobody could really understand what they were going through and wondered ’Why me?’ Many wondered if other young people dealing with cancer and treatment felt the same as they did and if they were ’normal’ for feeling and reacting the way they did.

Another common feeling was 'guilt’ about their families. They felt guilty for putting their parents through the pain and worry of seeing their child facing a life-threatening illness. Those who had brothers and sisters often felt guilty because they were taking all of their parents attention. Others felt the need to protect their families and 'bottled up’ their feelings or found it easier to talk to people outside of their family. Nonetheless, many said that they felt their relationship with their parents, particularly their mothers, became stronger because of their illness (see 'Impact on family').

Treatment can last for many months and many have feelings of frustration that they can’t enjoy a normal life; going out with their friends, learning to drive a car and other things beside. Even when feeling OK they still had to be careful to avoid picking up an infection. There was a strong feeling amongst those undergoing treatment for cancer that they were 'missing out’ on their normal teenage years.

The prospect of finishing treatment and going back to 'normal life' could also make some young people anxious or even depressed. For them it meant the end of a time where almost every decision was made for them. It can be quite difficult to resume responsibility for one’s own day to day living. Making contact with friends again, could be worrying too. 

Sometimes people who've had long treatments could feel depressed and a few started to see a psychologist or psychiatrist and some were prescribed antidepressants. For many young people, being able to talk about how they feel with families, friends and health professionals was the most important thing, during and after treatment.

One young man, who was unconscious for almost all the time of his treatment, had difficulty dealing with his emotions after regaining consciousness. He is extremely grateful to his mother for keeping a diary of the time that he was unconscious and taking pictures of him and his surroundings during that period.

A young man whose little brother was diagnosed with cancer felt guilty and asked himself, "Why him?" and " Why not me?"

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Last reviewed December 2017.

Last updated November 2014.


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