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How Important is Mental Health Support for Childhood Cancer Sufferers?

Posted on 30.09.2019
A cancer diagnosis at any age is a devastating, life-altering event and one that’s different for each individual. For a young person the diagnosis can be even more traumatic; for very young children it may be totally incomprehensible, while teenagers my feel a keen sense of injustice or hopelessness. Parents, too, share the burden and may not know how to best to comfort and support their children through treatment and everything that comes after that.
According to Children With Cancer UK, “4,500 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK.” Different cancers affect different age groups, with children, teenagers, young adults and over 25s all suffering from varying types. Leukemias of one sort or another are the most common but luckily, the past few decades have seen dramatic improvements in the outlook for children diagnosed with cancer. Fifty years ago, three-quarters of children diagnosed with cancer died; today more than three-quarters survive. Despite this, the treatment can be gruelling and take its toll both physically and mentally.
The Children’s Cancer and Leukemia Group (CCLG) has done extensive research on the subject. They have found that “96% of parents or carers felt lonely or isolated following their child's diagnosis, while 79% said they felt left out of normal life.” In addition to this, over half claimed they were given “no information or help on how to cope with emotional distress and shock at diagnosis.” Parents are likely to be the primary support system for child cancer sufferers, meaning the lack of support offered to them can seriously affect how well the family (and child in particular) copes.
The same research suggested that nearly half of parents found their child had grown apart from their friends as a result of their cancer diagnosis. They link this to the fact that it is often “difficult for children with cancer to continue with social activities with their family and friends, particularly when time is spent away from home. This can lead to poorly developed interpersonal skills, feeling isolated, and can be a cause of low self-esteem.” Cancer treatment can cause hair loss and weight gain, further compounding these feelings
It seems clear from all this, therefore, that mental health support is one of the most important aspects of a cancer diagnosis early on in life. Luckily, there are charities that specialise in just that such as the aforementioned CCLG, as well as the Youth Cancer Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Most of these focus on creating a community, for teenagers especially, who may not want to talk to adults about what they’re going through. Instead they are brought together with people sharing their experience. The Youth Cancer Trust sends young people with cancer on free holidays and activities to keep them active and socialised. These are the type of things that will make all the difference.
So, the answer to the initial question, “How important is mental health support for childhood cancer sufferers?” can only be answered with a resounding “very”. 
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