Meet our Cancer Support Specialist Laura.
Laura is one of a team of four Cancer Support Specialists who work with families where a parent has been diagnosed with cancer. We spoke to Laura to find out more about her role.
What are some of the issues facing young people who have a parent with cancer?
Cancer can be overwhelming and often it is very difficult for children to make sense of their parent’s diagnosis. They may find it difficult to talk about cancer within their family and experience a roller coaster of emotions from fear, to anxiety.
Isolation is a major issue for young people. This can be as a result of being separated from their parents during their treatment and being cared for by other family members, but also because they may not know anyone else their age who has a parent with cancer. They are often scared for their sick parent, not wanting to leave their side and even worried that they might die.
A parental cancer diagnosis can also have a massive impact on family life and routine – with young people assuming caring roles for younger siblings, or for their sick parent, and they sometimes feel an enormous amount of pressure to stay strong.
Can you tell us about your role and what it involves?
When a family is referred to Cancer Fund for Children, they’re allocated a Cancer Support Specialist. This means that they have one key person within the organisation dedicated to supporting their family.
As well as helping families avail of our therapeutic short breaks, and family events, I’m also the person who delivers individual support to children and young people aged 8-24 years old. Alongside individual support, our team also deliver a group work programme for young people aged 8-17 years old at our residential centre, in Newcastle.
What does your typical day involve?
No two days are the same which is one of the things I enjoy about my job. I could be in a family’s home listening to a recently diagnosed parent talk about their diagnosis and discussing how we can support them, or I could be facilitating an individual support session with a nine year-old who is struggling to concentrate in school because they are worrying about their mum.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
One of the more challenging parts of my role is receiving new referrals. Although I’m glad the family has been referred to Cancer Fund for Children for support, it’s a regular reminder that there is another family dealing with the impact of a cancer diagnosis.
What has been your biggest highlight to date?
A recent highlight took place last year during a group work programme for 8-11 year olds. At the beginning of the 4-month programme, the group were very nervous. Many couldn’t talk about their parent’s cancer, some struggled to leave their parent at home, while others worried so much that they couldn’t get to sleep at night. One thing all of the young people had in common was that they didn’t know anyone else in a similar situation to them.
We used a variety of therapeutic, creative, and outdoor group sessions, to help the group not only make new friends, but also grow in confidence, and develop new skills to help them cope.
It was so rewarding to receive feedback from their parents that their children were using the tools they had learned, and were feeling less anxious, were sleeping better, and also starting to open up with their parents about their diagnosis. Knowing that this group of young people now had the skills and tools they needed to support them through such a difficult time was a highlight for me and a testament to their strength and resilience.