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  • Matt
  • 19th Feb. 2020

How do you say goodbye to your sister when you're only 20?

When I was 19, my sister Hayley was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. Hayley was 21.

Hayley’s diagnosis hit the whole family hard. I remember that appointment very clearly and crying for much of the drive home. Her diagnosis was so unexpected, and we found ourselves in unfamiliar territory, Hayley undoubtedly more so than me.

CanTeen became a big part of our lives on the ward. The practical support that CanTeen offered within hospital was always super helpful and sometimes, especially on those longer visits, it’d be just the kind of respite Hayley needed to help get her through. Hayley finished treatment on her 22nd birthday and things were looking up. Less than two months later however, Hayley began having pains in her chest. The cancer was back and this time it was in her lungs. It was terminal.

Hayley’s passion for life always shone bright. Even when her health began to deteriorate quickly and she was admitted to hospice, Hayley continued smiling the greatest of smiles and giving the greatest hugs to each new person that came in to see her. Those long, determined hugs became utterly precious to us. I would give almost anything to experience them again.

Hayley passed away aged 22.

A month after Hayley passed, I attended CanTeen’s therapeutic programme that helps young people learn strategies to cope with grief, loss and change. Held over a weekend, members from across the country came together to share our experiences of living with cancer. It was a place of refuge – a safe place to build new connections, share my thoughts, worries, and heartaches. A place where I could be real and be heard.

I’ve since attended many more national and local CanTeen events – enjoying some much-needed space away from the daily pressures of living with cancer while developing skills and strategies to deal with its impact. But what underpins them all is peer support.

Life can feel pretty lonely when you’re trying to deal with cancer. Friends often don’t really understand what it’s like (even if they try to) so it can be really helpful and comforting to speak to someone who is in a similar situation to you. And while having a lot of fun at the same time.

It was the young people I met, like me, who truly understood what I was going through, and the resilience skills that I’d built that carried me through this difficult time when I couldn’t cope by myself.

Please make a donation today to ensure CanTeen can continue to support young people, like Matt, when cancer turns their lives upside down