Adolescents and young adults with blood cancer

Being told you have cancer at any time isn’t exactly great but at your age it can come as a massive shock.  The outlook for a young person with a blood cancer is very promising and most recover fully. Your age means your body can cope better with the high doses of the drugs needed to kill the cancer. There are many Australians who have been cured of their blood cancers; they are working, having families and living normal lives. So, your future is bright but you may have some tough times ahead.

Why did I get a blood cancer?

We don’t usually know what has caused an individual person’s blood cancer but we do know that it is not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. Some important things to remember about blood cancers are:

  • you can’t ‘catch’ blood cancers
  • there is no evidence that it can be caused by anything you eat or drink
  • most blood cancers are not hereditary.

What do I tell my friends and family?

When you receive your diagnosis you may find it difficult to tell friends and family. It is important to remember that like you, they will be confused and upset and may not know what to do to help. There is no right way to deal with your friends and family - after all, you know them better than anyone. The important thing in any family is to talk about how you feel. Tell them how they can help, even if it is doing something ‘normal’ with your friends to take your mind off your disease or treatment.

For most people with cancer, the family becomes an important support network. They’ll want to help you out when you are feeling tired or ill. This can mean a life-changing time for you and your family that can lead to feelings of guilt, anger and frustration. And, just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you won’t still have arguments about the normal stuff with your families too! Treatment drugs like steroids can make you feel grumpy. This can affect your relationships with family and friends. It will be easier to deal with this if you explain that it’s the drugs, not your friends and family, that are to blame for your bad mood.

A relationship can be another important support when you are diagnosed and are having treatment. A boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse can be a good person to talk to about hopes and concerns.

Who gets to make the decisions?

Some parents find it hard to let their children make decisions about their treatment, even when they are young adults. In other families, the person with cancer wants their family to be part of the decision-making process. It is really important to discuss issues like this with your family and let them know to what level you would like them to be involved. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think when important decisions are being discussed.

What about my future?

Overall the outlook for a young person with a blood cancer is very promising. The side effects of treatment can be managed and with follow-up for long-term survivors, you have every chance of beating your blood cancer. Should you have any concerns or queries about side effects of treatment, please talk to your doctor, nurse or one of our Support Services Coordinators.

The treatment for blood cancers, as with many types of cancer treatment, will inevitably change your everyday routine. This can limit the time and effort you can put into school, college/university or work.  You can discuss with your teachers/tutors a plan for your education while you are being treated. It may include flexible timetabling so you only have to go for core subjects, or if you are preparing for exams then you can devise a schedule to attend the most important lessons, or when you feel that you are able.

You will almost certainly need time off work while you are being treated for a blood cancer. Improved knowledge and education about blood cancers means that discrimination is much less common, but it is still something to be aware of. Your employer is obliged to make reasonable allowances for you while you are receiving your treatment so that you can either take some time off or have a more flexible working pattern. It can be very helpful to talk about your disease and treatment with your colleagues and boss, like explaining how long you think it will last and what tasks you think you’ll be able to do.

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