It was easy to make friends at Canteen

I was diagnosed with stage four nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare type of head and neck cancer, at just 16 years old.

I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me and I stopped being a functioning human being. While my friends were out enjoying life, I couldn’t move and struggled to hold food down. All I did was lay in bed, undergo treatment and throw up. I had no energy and didn’t want to do anything anymore.


Life during treatment sucked.

After enduring radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy, I’d just started to feel like myself again, when I learned cancer had spread to my lungs. I was so angry. So, following a short break, and now in my final year of high school, I began treatment all over again.

I wasn’t terrified of the treatment the first time, but now I knew what to expect. I suffered from bad anxiety to the point where I’d be sick before treatment even started, just in fear of what was to come.


Having cancer and going through treatment was an extremely scary and isolating time

The time I spent cooped up and unable to do anything was when I felt the loneliest. My lowest point was when I realised my diagnosis was impacting my family too.

I had to travel from Whangarei to Auckland for treatment, and Mum would always come with me having to take a tonne of time off work to do so. Meanwhile, my siblings would be at home and had to do their own thing while Mum focussed on my health. It was at the hospital where I met a Canteen Youth Worker shortly after I was diagnosed. I felt isolated and exhausted, but thankfully she eventually encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and join Canteen.


With your help, Canteen provided me with the opportunity to meet other young people who understood what I was going through

It was difficult for my friends at school to relate to what I was experiencing. There’s no way to positively respond to finding out your friend has cancer, I just made them all sad. Even if it came up, cancer wasn’t something I really wanted to talk about with them because they didn’t understand.

I struggled a lot with FOMO – the fear of missing out. I didn’t have the same experiences as my friends and as a teenager that felt like the worst thing in the world. Everything was happening for everyone else, but my life was on hold.

It was lonely missing out on doing ‘normal’ teenager things. But at Canteen, I was able to connect with others in the same boat and who had experienced the same challenges. It felt good, and it was easy, making friends with others on the same level and with who I had things in common. Being able to talk about the tough stuff and bond over our horrible hospital experiences normalised what I was going through.


Canteen helped build my resilience and confidence to get my life back on track and face the challenges of cancer after treatment had finished.

I attended Canteen recreation programmes and local activities, which provided some much-needed time out from the challenges life with cancer brings.

The activities are fun and engaging, so I always have a great time. I really like socialising and dropping into the local Canteen space to hang out with others, catch up and chat. It’s become my second home.


My sister and I attended Canteen’s therapeutic programme, which helps young people learn strategies to cope with grief, loss, and change

The weekend was an opportunity to connect and share with others going through a similar experience. We both really enjoyed it and made friendships with new people from around the country who ‘got it’. We weren’t forced to engage, but you want to. It was emotionally intense – I cried a lot and learnt a lot. I was able to address everything I needed to, and I felt better equipped to manage the tough stuff going on in my life following the camp.


I talk to other young people impacted by cancer via Canteen’s online support service, Canteen Connect.

Canteen Connect includes an online counselling service, as well as web-based information and an online peer space. The counselling service is available seven days a week and we can chat online, talk on the phone, or via email with a counsellor. The peer space is where we can share the challenges that come with having cancer, in our world. And connect with other young people via video stories, text stories, forums, blogs, and photos. There is even an app now too!

Canteen is so important to young people, like me, whose lives have been unravelled. Developing positive coping strategies and building strong support networks reduced the extreme isolation I felt and helped me transition through my cancer journey equipped with the skills to achieve a positive future.

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leaton wearing a pink jacket and white shirt smiling at the camera