You are bald, pale and living a life far from a normal teen’s life, so it is understandable to feel like you don’t belong. Before my cancer diagnosis, I was fairly popular at school and I had no trouble fitting in, but after my diagnosis it felt like I was a completely different person, because no one saw me in the same way – I felt like an outcast compared to my peers. It is almost as if you are holding up a sign that says, “I AM THE CANCER KID”, because people stare at you and even people that you knew well before can’t even face looking at you. It is a struggle. I think the struggle is so huge, because at our young age our friends and peers have likely never seen a teenager with cancer before, so not only can they not relate, they have no idea what the ‘right and wrong’ things to say are. So, I think the first step to coping with these feelings of being the odd one out is to realise that people our age don’t know how to talk to you, so in some ways they are fearful of making you upset. We know that all we want more than anything is for them to treat us like normal, but they find it increasingly difficult to do that when they see you so differently. This leads me to my first tip…
Tip 1 – Be resilient
Be resilient, don’t let your feelings stop you from going to school, work or a friend’s house. When I first went back to school, I felt like an outcast so there were times when I wanted to go home and never come back, but you get through it. Time is the essence, because with time comes acceptance and normality. At first, my friends didn’t know what to do or say to me, but with time they knew that they didn’t have to act differently around me, so they became more comfortable with me. As a result, my classmates got used to the ‘new me’, so they became more comfortable and accepted the new me. I know it is hard to feel like an outcast but be patient and things will get better.
Tip 2 – Support network
The people I felt the most comfortable with were my friends and family, so they formed my close-knit support network. A good support network can help you instrumentally to feel like less of an outsider, because they are the ones that know you the best and they are the ones that will be there for you no matter what. Unfortunately, that close support network cannot follow you everywhere, for instance at school/work where you have to make the effort to fit in but having that good support network will give you the confidence to interact with other people.
Tip 3 – Do normal things sometimes
Normality is far from reach during cancer treatment, because you are either in hospital, whacked out from the treatment, or imprisoned in your house when you are neutropenic. But there are times when you do feel good, whilst these moments are scarce, they are the perfect opportunity to do some ‘normal things’. You could go shopping, to the café, watch a movie at the cinema – even if it is only for an hour. It is important that you seize these moments, because they could help you to feel like less of an outsider. Just those few moments of normality can make you feel like you, not the “cancer kid”.
I hope this blog post has helped you. Remember that cancer does not have to define you, it may seem that it does to everyone else, but give them time and it will get better.