Teen cancer survivor from Birmingham shaping the future

Young cancer patients work with charity to help assess needs and support.

Cancer charity, Teens Unite, has introduced a new committee formed of young people who have experienced a cancer diagnosis.

The ‘Committeens’ members are beneficiaries of Teens Unite who will collaborate with the team at the charity to identify the needs of the young people and shape the support they receive.

Amongst the committee, is Crystal, 22, Birmingham, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her upper jaw at the age of 18. Crystal’s always had a passion for acting and before her diagnosis, her plan was to complete her drama course at college and then head to university or drama school. She said: “Ever since I was a little girl, I found such joy in putting on performances for my family. I enjoyed it so much that I became serious about turning it into a career.”

Then in 2016, a lump appeared under Crystal’s lip. She made appointments with her dentist and doctor, and following an x-ray, biopsy and small operation, the consultant broke the devasting news that Crystal had bone cancer in her face.

The next step was six rounds of chemotherapy, accompanied by numerous infections and utter exhaustion. Whilst the chemotherapy was having a positive effect and Crystal could finally start smiling again, not all the tumour could be treated, resulting in an operation. Crystal explains: “This was the toughest, hardest and most upsetting thing I have ever been through.”

Every day, seven young people in the UK hear the devastating words “You have cancer”. As a result of their treatment, 80% of young people will suffer from anxiety and depression and 83% will experience loneliness. Many will also endure physical changes and a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

Crystal said: “Following the operation, I had to do a lot of emotional healing. Finding gratitude for my health, friends and family and the fact that I could still speak, sing and see, helped my recovery. Cancer has changed the person I am. I will never get back to the old Crystal, but I have evolved into a stronger, self-assured and compassionate person and I hope my story inspires other to feel the same.”

Following her operation, Crystal has been receiving ongoing support from Teens Unite, a charity supporting young people fighting cancer to live their best life, while others search for a cure. This is achieved through regular activities and workshops, which are currently being held digitally because of COVID-19.

These activities enable the young people to thrive with others their age who are also facing the long-term effects of cancer. Whether a young person is newly diagnosed or in remission, the activities and workshops provide opportunities to learn new skills, challenge themselves, make new friends and recognise their potential in an environment without questions or judgement.

Crystal said: “Teens Unite treat me with love, kindness, and respect. The online activities they organise have saved my life. What I have been through, the challenges I’ve faced, the positives I’ve found and the support of charities like Teens Unite, have helped me become the Crystal I am today.”

More than 1,000 young people are currently registered with Teens Unite, and the introduction of the committee will help to ensure they receive the best possible support. The role of the Committeens members, including Crystal, is to review the impact of the services provided, identify new opportunities to improve the service provision, evaluate the long-term plans of the charity and champion the work of Teens Unite.

To find out more about Teens Unite and to donate, visit www.teensunite.org.