By Lauren Ferrone
Last updated on: November 8, 2017 at 5:21 pm
When we’re young – and sometimes even as we reach adulthood – it’s easy to see our loved ones as invincible. It’s a belief we often only become conscious of when someone dear to us becomes ill. Words: Lauren Reid
Cancer can jolt us into becoming acutely aware of our mortality, and it’s a disease that will touch most of our lives in some way.
But how do you cope with the confronting reality of seeing a friend or family member go through cancer, when you yourself are still growing up? And how do you find others who ‘get it’ in a small country town?
Enter CanTeen. You probably know them from their Bandana Day sales, but there’s so much more to this organisation.
I had the privilege of being invited along to one of their PEER program camps recently. These programs provide an outlet for young people between 12 and 25 years old to share their experiences, learn strategies to look after their own wellbeing, build supportive friendships, and just let their hair down a bit.
Not long after I arrived, one young participant approached me, proud to show off the friendship bracelets he’d made. The bracelets were a simple sign of the strong bonds forged at camp, he said, but he had also made one for himself.
CanTeen, he explained, had helped him realise that even though he wasn’t the one in his family going through cancer treatment, he was also deserving of self-care.
And with that came sincere pats on the back from a group who were heading outside for the next activity – games of soccer played from inside giant inflatable bubbles, which sparked the loudest cheers and heartiest laughs I’d heard in years.
It’s this combination of deep personal epiphanies, practical coping strategies, peer support and plain ol’ fun that makes the in-person programs like camps so valuable – especially for regional-based young people who may be isolated from support services.
That’s why RAA’s proud to partner with CanTeen to provide transport for participants like student Tarsh Wakefield (pictured above) to come to the city for programs, all the way from the mid-north.
‘At home, there’s no one really around who gets the situation I’m in, dealing with mum’s cancer. But here, even though we might be here for different reasons, you share similar things in terms of emotions and points of view,’ says Tarsh.
‘So the best bit is definitely meeting all the new people. You learn so much from them – right from the really young ones, up to the older staff members… and you stay in touch way after camp finishes.’
Tarsh says she’s looking forward to staying involved with CanTeen in the future and helping others.
‘I want to come back as a staff member or volunteer, and help others the way I’ve been helped.’
We’ve got a long road ahead in the quest to cure cancer, but that’s precisely why organisations like CanTeen are so vital; they help young people adjust to the impact it has on their lives, and continue to support them long after they first hear the word, ‘cancer’.