Young cancer victims missing out on help

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YOUNG cancer sufferers are having to leave school, university and even employment because they are not getting proper support to help them through their illness, a report warns.

More than seven out of ten young people diagnosed with cancer in the UK now survive the disease. But many find that their education and employment opportunities have suffered as a result of their battle, according to children and young people's cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

The campaigners want more help and support to be given to young cancer sufferers to help them continue with education and jobs, or return when they are ready after treatment.

CLIC Sargent spoke to 200 young cancer survivors, their families and carers across the UK, including patients in Scotland.

Their report - More Than My Illness - found that almost two-thirds of 16- to 18-year-old cancer survivors said they had fallen behind with their studies during their battle with the disease.

Almost three out of ten (29 per cent) of 16- to 24-year-olds said they had left school, college or university because of their illness. Of those who were in employment, 93 per cent said they had been affected, with four out of ten leaving their job and three in ten taking unpaid leave.

The report said that young people with cancer were not always receiving the support they needed to keep up with their education or work, social lives, friendships, relationships and other parts of everyday life.

The charity said one problem was that young people often fell in the gap between child and adult cancer services, meaning their specific needs - such as further education and their early working lives - were not always considered and supported during their treatment.

The report recommended that all young people diagnosed with cancer be assigned a key worker - either a specialist nurse or social worker - to co-ordinate all aspects of their care, such as help to continue education or employment.

Lorraine Clifton, the chief executive of CLIC Sargent, said: "Young people who have survived cancer shouldn't be disadvantaged for the rest of their life as a result of their illness.

"Every young person has the right to fulfil their potential, so it's vital that services for young people with cancer are co-ordinated more effectively so that they can keep up with their everyday lives, continue in education or work, and go on to live their life to the full."

Allan Cowie, from Macmillan Cancer Support Scotland, said: "Cancer can have a real impact on the opportunities of young people, whether its because they miss out on education or because they struggle to enter or retain employment.Macmillan has been working with employers to help them understand that people who have been affected by cancer are still productive members of society."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that its Living With Cancer group "wants all cancer patients, whatever their age, to be prepared for the consequences of their diagnosis and treatment - socially, physically, emotionally, financially and in many other ways.

"The group has already recognised that there is a particular need to engage with children and young people affected by cancer."

Case study: Ambitions put on hold while illness took its course

Shadab Naqvi saw her ambition to work with young children hampered as she fought cancer.

The 21-year-old was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 17, after struggling for months to get a diagnosis after suffering symptoms that included a bad cough and lumps in her neck.

But as well as facing the prospect of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy to fight the disease, she also had to make the difficult decision to leave her college course in childcare and early education.

Miss Naqvi, from Glasgow, was only three months into her course. "It was really hard making the decision to leave because at that age you think you are all grown up, but you're not. You're a young adult or teenager and just want to be normal and do normal things," she said.

"You realise who your friends are as well. It was really hard having to leave college because you are just so desperate to learn and do something you enjoy doing."

Miss Naqvi was away from her course for about 18 months while she had treatment, before returning two years ago. "There was no way I could have been at college at the same time as getting chemo. It made me really ill and I was in hospital all the time after catching infections," she said.

Miss Naqvi said the college had tried its best to support her when she returned, but she got most of her support from the charity CLIC Sargent. She said it was hard seeing friends who had progressed on their course while she was taking time out from education to fight her illness.

"Lots of the girls I started the course with at the beginning have now qualified," she said.

After qualifying next year as a child development officer, Miss Naqvi hopes to work in a council-run nursery.

"I am hoping I will get through this year. I don't know how I will cope with the stress of the work," she said.

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