Boost for teen cancer

YOUTH FOCUS: Haley Thomas, 22, diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 17.
YOUTH FOCUS: Haley Thomas, 22, diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 17.

Haley Thomas knows first-hand what it's like to be a teenager going through cancer.

At 17 she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of bone cancer in her rib that spread to her right lung.

The former Avondale resident, now 22, is in remission but only five years ago was faced with a whirlwind of scans, operations and chemotherapy treatment.

She knows what services did and didn't work well for a teenage cancer patient.

Miss Thomas says the first stages of diagnoses was daunting and she struggled to keep up with the medical terminology used by doctors and nurses.

During her second round of chemotherapy she developed depression and malnutrition.

"Teenagers at the best of times are often misunderstood," she says.

"Sometimes we feel we're being talked down to by adults but young people need to own their cancer journey and know what's going on."

This year the Government has allocated an extra $650,000 over two years to help improve adolescent and young adult cancer services.

The extra funding follows a recent Adolescents and Young Adults Cancer Services review which found survival rates of five years for young Kiwis after being diagnosed with cancer is below international standards.

The initiative will take a similar approach to paediatric wards which are supported by the Child Cancer Network and provide leadership and professional networks within the wards.

Miss Thomas had her treatment at Waikato Hospital and says sitting in a room among a majority of older patients was hard and she often found there was no one to turn to.

After she left hospital a youth lounge was established where teens going through cancer treatment could hang out or talk to each other about what they were going through.

Miss Thomas says youth-focused steps are beneficial to patients' wellbeing and recovery process.

She also credits CanTeen and Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer, or AYA, to guiding her on a better pathway to accepting her illness.

"AYA key workers are the bridge between the young person and the doctors - they speak your language.

"Through CanTeen I was introduced to different people going through what I was and it was a huge part of my recovery process," she says.

Health minister Tony Ryall says young people in the 12 to 24 year age group have unique cancer treatment needs.

"Evidence shows that when young people receive care that is delivered in a way that's age appropriate, they do much better," Mr Ryall says.


The Adolescents and Young Adults Cancer Services review also found survival rates for Maori and Pacific patients aged between 15 and 24 were lower than other ethnicities.

Survival rates:

Maori patients: 69 percent

Pacific patients: 71 per cent

Non-Maori and Pacific patients: 84 per cent. 

Western Leader