Sunday, December 2, 2007

Teens and Cancer

I have been reading through many blogs of teenagers with cancer, and have had email correspondence with several of them. I am learning that teens with cancer face a very unique set of struggles that are often not fully appreciated.

I began to understand this better when I thought of Tyler recently getting his driving temps. Tyler has taken a few drives through the neighborhoods, and one trip outside the neighborhood to go to Erik's football game. Next we were going to go driving on the highways and country roads. Then, before he could really experience the true thrill of driving, he became sick and everything was put on hold.

These kids are young adults who are just beginning to taste their independence in many more ways than driving. They are learning who they are as individuals, discovering their dreams, and finding new relationships. Just as they have begun to experience their new freedoms, this disease puts everything on hold and forces them back into a world of total dependence. They are now in the minority, surrounded by young children, in an environment designed for young children. Over 85% of childhood cancers attack children under 12, making young children the focus of most programs in the oncology floor. As a result these teens often feel treated like children. And yet they have a full adult awareness of the life threatening battle before them, a battle few people much older are able to handle very well. Medically it seem true that teens respond better to traditional childhood treatments, but this does not mean they are children. They experience all the anxiety typical of teenagers, experience all the frustration of their plans and dreams getting put on hold, all this while experiencing the full range of emotions of both both children and adults going through during this struggle. I do not think this is fully appreciated. As I read through their blogs, they often seem very isolated and alone. They seem to struggle to retain some level of independence and freedom, and continue a life as normal as possible.

This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn. All I want to do his hug Tyler, kiss him, and tell him I will make it all better. But he is not a child any longer. Kathy and I have spent 15 1/2 years preparing Tyler for life, and now life is hitting him with a vengeance. He is now exhibiting all the courage and strength of the young man he is becoming. It is hard to let him do that, but that also is part of life. I now understand better why he waits so long before requesting morphine. It is because it is the one drug he can control when and how often he gets it. I now understand his anger when I try to help him with the small things like putting on socks or getting another blanket. He is not a child. He can do it. And I now understand why he needs me to be to "normal" with him, and not always consumed with this battle. It is his battle. He is entering adulthood and starting his life. I can be there to help him, advise him, support him. I can be his advocate. But I can not do it for him. He is young, but he is becoming a man.

Tyler will not allow cancer to define him. He is not "a cancer patient". He is Tyler Alfriend. He has a life and a future full of dreams, goals, interests, friends, and relationships that go far beyond cancer. His best times have been when friend have come and just talked as they would with anyone else, usually about football or basketball. He is not looking for sympathy. More than anything, he wants to be treated normal. He wants to laugh with his friends, enjoy his ball games, and follow his sports hero's. And when he is ready to talk about health issues, he wants straight talk. I am so very proud of him.

There are some organizations just beginning to address the needs of teenagers. There are chat sites and blogs attempting to connect teens with cancer. The "teen lounge" at Children's was donated by The Victorious Foundation, started by a family dedicated to helping teens after they saw their 16 year old daughter struggle through these same issues. Most of all, we just need to realize that these are maturing young men and women who simply want the same respect and attention that we would want for ourselves.


Grandma Bonnie said...

Erik & Travis,

Way to go. Sorry we couldn’t see Travis on TV. Hope you taped it.

Grandma Bonnie

balfriend said...


I have enjoyed your writings so much but none more than than 'Teens and Cancer'. Not only has Tyler been robbed of his health for the present but also his youth at an all important time in his life. As you point out the challenge is more complicated for teens than for young children or adults as one has not reached the age of full awareness and the other has already experienced an uninterupted transition from child to adult.

Thank you, Kyle for sharing your thoughts and study with all of us. A tremendous insight into this journey. Holding you tight in my prayers and thoughts as you as you walk down this road; I am so proud of you.

With Love,


Cathy Lane said...

Thanks Kyle for your faithful journal of how Tyler and your family are doing. We wish we could call you every day and let you know we're thinking of you, so we really appreciate reading the blog! Tyler is so blessed to have many people care about him - I'm so glad God is there for you!
In prayers with you,
cathy and stacy