Monday, July 11 2016
Canteen is an organisation (charity) that provides support and help to young people (like me) aged 12-24 to help them on their cancer journey. You might have heard about Canteen through their National Bandanna Day campaign that runs annually each October.
When I was younger I had a beautiful little sister who was fighting her own intense cancer battle, and canteen helped our family out with support and ever since then and after my sister's passing we continued to support Canteen through their National Bandanna Day, our way of saying "thanks for the support".
It wasn't until after my dad died in 2012, that we realised that Canteen was there to help us through our dad having cancer and then dying, we thought it was just for people who had cancer and didn't know we could join too.
It was a few days after my dad's passing and my siblings weren't coping, so I looked into signing us up and a short time later we went on a 'New Member's Camp' where we weren't the only new kids on the block.
What I didn't know at the time was that I had found a place where I belonged and could turn to when I needed support... I also didn't know just how much I would come to rely on Canteen.
After the camp I kept in contact with the staff at my local division and accessed the counselling support.
Late 2012, I was told that I had early signs of bowel cancer and that I required my bowel to be removed in the coming months. I turned to Canteen for help and support as I made the decision to have my bowel removed and live the rest of my life with a permanent ileostomy.
Because of my surgery I didn't go on any programs during 2013, mostly out of anxiety around living with a stoma but also I was in and out of hospital with pancreatitis that I just kept missing out, which again happened during most of 2014. I was going on an over 18's program but instead was in hospital the day before camp started.
During this hospital admission they did a scan and found there was a tumour, I then travelled backwards and forwards to Sydney for consults with specialists and having scans done.
Canteen were fantastic, the staff touched base with me each week and when they were in the local area they would invite me to coffee to see how I was going.
I decided to say thank you to Canteen for their support and organised a Halloween themed high tea fundraiser, which was an absolute blast and success raising $1200 for Canteen and is an afternoon that guests still talk about.
Then in early 2015 I had a PET scan and it showed my tumour had now doubled in size, I had a new tumour growing and that I also had thyroid cancer.
I turned to Canteen a lot during this year, and I was involved a lot as a camp leader or helping to plan different programs (even though I wasn't able to attend for health reasons). I offered up my graphic design services and would design different flyers and posters or invites for camps, I loved not only having something to do but to help in my own way of saying thanks for being there for me.
I actually just got home from an Over 18's program, and I am so glad that I went... During the past fortnight I was told my chemo was to be stopped and that there were no more treatment options going forward and that palliative care were called in to help manage my pain and symptoms and to help me feel more comfortable.
The past fortnight has been extremely tough to deal with, and I just really needed to escape and get away and just talk to people my own age with their own experiences... to talk with peers who 'get it'.
I had so much fun on the program, and despite being in a lot of pain I really enjoyed myself. The staff were amazing going above and beyond to help me, and the member's who attended were so kind and accepting.
To be honest, Canteen is the one place that I feel accepted and valued and not judged, and I think that is why Canteen works so well.... it is a safe place for you to explore your feelings and dealings with your cancer journey and you are surrounded by people who are as well.
I honestly don't know how I would have gotten through and navigated the last few years without the support and help from Canteen, and for that I will always be thankful and appreciative of all the times that Canteen was there when I needed them.
I age out of Canteen this year, so that was my last camp. I still plan on keeping in contact with the staff and offerring my graphic design services. But I have made some amazing friendships through Canteen that I will continue to cherish and keep in contact with.
If you are a young person aged 12-24 in Australia, or know someone who is affected by cancer (whether it be themselves, their parent or sibling who was/is sick) please let them know about Canteen by clicking this link.