The teenagers growing up with cancer – BBC News

Every day in the UK seven teenagers find out they have cancer. At the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, the Teenage Cancer Trust has set up a specially-designed “teen-only” unit.

The unit brings together young people from all over Scotland who are dealing with cancer, so they don’t have to face it alone.


Natasha – aged 15

Natasha has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and comes to the unit five times a week for chemotherapy.

She told BBC documentary Growing Up With Cancer: “When someone says to you the word ‘cancer’, you just go blank.”

“It started sinking in when my hair started falling out. That’s when it properly sunk in.”

For Natasha, and for all patients undergoing chemotherapy, going bald changes the way they see themselves and how other people view them.

She says: “It is so confusing because I miss the old self.

“Before I thought I’m never going to walk out bald, I’ll always have my wigs on every time I walk out of the house.

“But now I don’t care if people are looking at me because it’s not their life.”

She says the wigs are hot and heavy and sometimes hurt her ears and give her a sore head.

Image caption Natasha says she tries to have “positive thoughts”

But she says “positive thinking” gets her through.

“It’s hard with something like this at the beginning when you get told but when you get into it there’s nothing else you can do,” she says.

“You’ve got it, deal with it – and that’s it.”

The 15-year-old says she wants to be a lawyer one day.

She says: “After this I’d never take health for granted.

“When I get married and have kids that’ll be my main priority – my health, because anything could happen at any point.

“I’ll just focus on my health and my education now, that’s it.”


Nairn – aged 14

Image caption Nairn was worried about losing his hair

Nairn, who is 14, says: “I started getting unwell about January time. I thought it was a chest infection.

“Then I started to get a bit sicker, coughing and things like that. It was bringing my mood down. I lost a lot of energy and I just felt horrible.

“I was going straight home to my bed. I was crying a lot, the emotions were building up in me so much I didn’t know what to think.”

He allowed the cameras to film him and his parents as he got his diagnosis from consultant haematologist Dr Nick Heaney.

He faces treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same cancer as Natasha.

When he gets his diagnosis, he is worried about falling behind with his school work and he is also concerned about the affect on his family.

Nairn says: “I don’t want my mum and dad to be worried and I wouldn’t want anyone else to be.

“The smile on my face helps them to cope I feel.

“Obviously as a teenager you’re going to get grumpy so I’ve tried to maintain a good behaviour with them and it has kind of worked but it’s difficult.

“Sometimes I want to be a bit grumpy but I need to keep that smile on because I know it is helping them through it.”

And as he tries to stay positive he says he does not like other people saying “I’m so sorry”.

“It just brings down the mood,” he says. “I’d much rather everyone acts as normal.”

Nairn says the treatment is “tough, tiring and simply quite boring”.

He says: “I just wish I could wake up and it was just a dream but it’s not and I have to deal with it.”

As his chemo progresses his skin breaks out and he suffers mouth ulcers and cracked lips.

And, like Natasha, losing his hair is a major moment.

Nairn tells Natasha he loves his hair and would spend ages getting it just right.

She is three months ahead of him in her chemo treatment and offers support, telling him to “embrace” the baldness.

Nairn says: “Natasha was really supportive and I think it was really helpful talking to her about what kind of symptoms she had.

“I think she helped me embrace what was wrong with me a bit more.

“I think I’m just going to continue life as it was before and I hope everyone can do the same.”


Declan – aged 14

Image caption Declan was back in hospital after a relapse

Declan was in the unit for a stem cell transplant after a relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, an aggressive form of cancer.

For the first month or more he was placed in isolation while his immune system was shut down in preparation.

He said: “I started my treatment almost two years ago and I was doing fine. I was on a maintenance part of treatment but then I relapsed.

“They took me for a bone marrow and they found out the chemo hadn’t worked, which was horrible news.

“I was just transitioning from child to teenager. I had to grow up pretty fast.”

After seven weeks in isolation, Declan’s stem cell transplant is working and he’s back in the teenage ward.

He says the thought of going home got him through it.

“The thought of going home and being normal again.”

Growing up with cancer is on BBC One on Monday 26 June at 19:30.

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