CanTeen currently helps thousands of young people aged 12-25 who have cancer themselves or are coping with a parent or sibling’s diagnosis. National Bandanna Day is the major fundraising and awareness campaign for CanTeen Australia. Held each year on the last Friday in October, this powerful campaign has generated over $30 million to support young people affected by cancer. Raise funds for CanTeen and help make sure that no young person goes through their cancer journey alone.
Matt “My world got flipped upside down. He was my best mate. We would talk about anything and everything.”
Matt was just 16 when he lost his Dad to cancer. It left a huge gap in his life that could only be filled with the right kind of support and understanding.
Take yourself back to when you were just 16 years old, growing fast and still full of insecurities. You’re not quite an adult, but your world is getting bigger. And there to guide you through it are Mum and Dad. They’re your rock, your shelter. That’s just how young Matt felt – until one morning when his Dad found a lump on his throat while shaving. Only days later Matt’s Dad, Gavin, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Matt’s world began to crash down around him.
Matt, who is now 22, says his Dad was a devoted family man who spent every spare minute with his wife and children. So when he was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment, his absence left a huge gap.
“My world sort of got flipped upside down. Mum had to take on the role of being a Mum and a Dad. It was a very tough time for the family and for me, trying to cope with not having Dad around as often and the uncertainty of what was going to happen,” Matt remembers.
Young people coping with cancer find it difficult to talk about their feelings. They often try to stay strong for other family members, and friends who aren’t experiencing the same thing just don’t understand.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I know what you’re going through’. You feel like turning around and saying; ‘You really don’t.’ Because unless you’ve been through it, you can’t know what it feels like.”
It’s times like these that the peer support, counselling and friendship that CanTeen provides can make all the difference.
“CanTeen entered my life, and my sister’s life, just after Dad was diagnosed. One of the nurses that was on Dad’s ward knew about CanTeen and suggested it to us.”
“We began accessing CanTeen’s services that day and ever since we’ve been on a journey – it’s just been something very inspiring and it’s made things a lot easier.”
At first, Matt’s Dad was expected to have a good chance of recovery. But after a few months, Matt had to deal with a devastating blow. The cancer had returned, more aggressively than ever.
Matt’s Dad collapsed at home. He was rushed to hospital and the family was told to prepare for the worst.
“I was met at school by my grandparents and told things weren’t good with Dad. We reached the hospital and it was there that Dad told me they had given him two weeks to live. There was nothing more they could do to help him.”
“The next morning he stopped breathing and we were met by a doctor to tell us that it was all over. Dad had passed away.”
Matt didn’t just lose his hero and his best mate – he lost faith that everything in his world would always be okay.
“With Dad gone, I was emptier than anything. I didn’t feel many emotions until I visited the CanTeen counsellor. This helped me to let go of my emotions and get some release, without being judged by anyone.”
“If CanTeen wasn’t around, I’d be lost without the support of people my age and their understanding of what I’m going through. It’s a healthy space where you can connect and chat about what’s going on in your life.”
“I’ve been to events hosted by CanTeen, such as an evening at Fringe World, a comedy night at Little Creatures in Freo and a quiz night at the Raffles Hotel. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel interstate to events such as a retreat at a beach resort in Queensland and a skiing trip in the Blue Mountains.”
Matt now volunteers his time to give back to other young people who are impacted by cancer through CanTeen’s Youth Leadership Program.
“From the support I received and CanTeen’s youth leadership training, I’ve gained the skills and knowledge to support others who are going through something similar. I found making a difference really rewarding and it has given me direction and purpose.”
CanTeen has helped give Matt the strength he needs to move on and look to the future, even as he comes to terms with the fact that his Dad is no longer around.
“My Dad’s not going to be there for the rest of my life. He’s here in spirit, but it’s just not the same as him physically being here and hearing his voice.”
So often the hidden tragedy of cancer is that young people often don’t get vital support when they need it most. CanTeen currently helps thousands of young people aged 12-25 who have cancer themselves or are coping with a parent or sibling’s diagnosis, but there are still so many more young Australians who desperately need support.
All of CanTeen’s programs, counselling services and resources are completely free of charge, and that’s only possible because of the generous support of the community and fundraising events like Bandanna Day.
Bandanna Day is CanTeen’s largest annual fundraiser and will be taking place on Friday 25 October in Murray Street Mall in Perth’s CBD. Get behind CanTeen and buy a bandanna to support young people like Matt facing the challenge of cancer.
If you’re a young person or know of a young person whose world has been impacted by cancer, please contact us on 08 6260 7771 or visit canteen.org.au