Your Health Tamar Raucher | one year ago

Two Cancer Journeys, One Unbreakable Bond

Noah and Will have both battled cancer. A new mentor support program is bringing them and other teens together to face the fight together.

Noah and Will have quite a lot in common – from a love of soccer to an affinity for rock music. But there’s something far more meaningful that binds the boys: both have faced the fight against cancer. It’s this connection that brought the two together as part of a new Levine Children’s Hospital program that pairs current cancer fighters with peer mentors. The goal: to give teens battling cancer a deeper level of support and encouragement, straight from former patients who’ve lived the experience themselves. Now a mentor, Will was diagnosed with a bone cancer known as osteosarcoma at 15. He underwent chemotherapy and, today, the 21-year-old is celebrating five years of being cancer free. Through the program, he was paired with Noah, a 13-year-old with leukemia. The two first met and bonded at a summer camp for kids and teens with cancer. Then, when the peer support program began, Noah signed up for a mentor – and he asked for Will. “When I got the phone call about being a mentor, I knew I wanted to do it,” says Will, now a senior in college. “I wish I would have had a mentor myself. It’s just so great to know someone who has been through it, to have someone to talk to and relate to.” Will became Noah’s mentor, offering practical advice and encouragement, giving him the real deal on what to expect – and just being a friend. The two talk, text and Skype regularly, and when Will is home from school, they get together in person. They’ve played soccer in the park, met for dinner, and gone on outings with Noah’s family. “It’s just easier to talk to Will about life and stuff,” explains Noah, who says he gets more accurate advice about going through treatment than what he’d get from his parents. “Will’s cancer was different, but he’s been through the same thing.” Noah’s mother Susan sees the difference, too. “Noah’s really blossomed with Will’s friendship and support,” she says. “It’s really helped him get through treatment easier.” Clinical staff at the hospital launched the program as a pilot last fall, encouraged by research showing that teens could benefit from peer-to-peer support. Compared to traditional support groups, one-on-one peer programs can offer more flexibility for pairs to meet up, and foster a more comfortable setting for patients to share their feelings. “This kind of support system allows us to reach patients where they are,” says Amii Steele, PhD, who coordinates psychosocial support and programming for cancer patients at Levine Children’s Hospital. “We want to break down as many barriers as possible for kids to get support.” Lynnae Schwandt, a staff nurse who helps head the effort, says the program provides an extra layer of emotional support for a group that may not often get it. “This kind of peer support is done a lot in the adult world – but not as much for teens.” Schwandt hopes their research will show real proof of the benefits for younger patients. In the meantime, they’re hearing good things from Noah and Will. The program’s been equally inspiring for both of them – and they’ve formed a bond that won’t break. [gallery type="slideshow" size="full" ids="3315,3316,3317,3318,3319,3320"]