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My Name Is NOT Cancer

The Role of a Youth Support Coordinator

I completed my degree in Psychology and after a years travel started to consider a career working with young people.  I worked as a youth counsellor, as a mentor for young offenders and for the ‘Childrens Society’ helping out at a youth club.

I began applying for jobs in the youth service and other sectors that worked with young people; I knew this was where my personal interest lay.  I applied for the job of ‘Activity Coordinator’ on the Young Oncology Unit (YOU) at The Christie hospital in Manchester.  Funded by ‘Teenage Cancer Trust’ the role involved working with young people to provide age appropriate activities, both on and off the ward, for 16-21 year olds who were undergoing treatment for cancer.

That was over 8 years ago.  Having entered a field and career path I knew nothing about I found that I had a passion and belief in the specialist needs of young people within the health service.  The YOU and Teenage Cancer Trust advocates for and works towards a gold standard of care for young people having cancer treatment, and my role contributes towards that.

The focus of my role is the young person.  Too often in the NHS patients can become medicalised and hospitalised by their treatment but this role recognises that young people entering our service are young people who happen to have cancer, not cancer patients who happen to be young people.  With this in mind I now provide a service for young people (aged 16-24) and their families.  The service includes one to one support, group support, input from music, art and complementary therapists as well as age appropriate activities that encourage young people to develop normally and socialise and support each other at a very difficult time.

A cancer diagnosis at any age is devastating but it can be particularly destructive in adolescence and young adulthood.  Without a well established support network and at a time when young people are starting to develop an identity and gain autonomy from the family unit, a cancer diagnosis can cause social isolation, withdrawal from normal activities and peers and sometimes even depression.

Providing a number of activities while young people are inpatients can avoid young people focusing on their clinical situation, can motivate young people to get out of bed and engage in activities and learn new skills and can provide
enjoyment and ultimately relieve boredom.  By providing age appropriate group activities (evenings and days out and residentials) young people can have something to look forward to while undergoing treatment, can spend time with others who understand away from the hospital environment and can experience new things; something that is crucial to development and self esteem at this life stage.

I enjoy my job.  I meet some incredible young people and families and it is always a privilege to work as part of a team that has such a strong belief in the specialist needs of young people.  I have completed my MA in Youth and Community Studies and use my new knowledge and skills to continue to develop support services for young people and their families.

by Lorraine Case

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