Teenage Cancer Trust: Time for T, 24th May

Hello everybody!

A while ago I wrote about the Teenage Cancer Trust, a phenomenal charity who both facilitate support and recovery for young people suffering from cancer, and also provide education within the school system. They were actually on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this morning talking about what they do and the importance of education. As I’m being a Speedy Gonzalez in writing this post, the programme isn’t actually on iPlayer yet, but if you want to hear it you can go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer later today and search for ‘Woman’s Hour’. You can read the post I wrote about TCT so you can get some background on the charity:  – or you can also visit www.teenagecancertrust.org.

I promised to let you know about ways you could get involved, so here we go. The 24th of May is going to be ‘Time for T’ day. Essentially, we want people to get together and raise some money by doing an activity that begins with the letter ‘T’. So turn up to work in tuxedos and tiaras, play table tennis, host a tea party, do some sponsored shots of tequila…we’d really like people to have some fun and raise some money. It doesn’t matter how big or small the event you organise is, or if you literally bring in some cakes to work and sell them under the title of afternoon tea. Get creative or keep it simple. I’ll personally be avoiding the tequila (my friends know why, right guys? Ahem.) But I’ll most likely be doing something afternoon tea based, as that’s much more up my street.

We’d really like as many people as possible to get involved, and we can offer you all the support necessary. Go to www.teenagecancertrust.org/timefort to get more information or your free fundraising pack, or you can contact me via this blog, or via ameliasimmons@hotmail.co.uk. I can’t stress enough how amazing it would be to get a lot of you involved. You don’t need heaps of props or complicated ideas – you could bake a treacle tart and sell each slice for a small donation. So start thinking about what you’d like to do! We’ll help you out however you choose to do it.

I’ll be tweeting, Facebooking and probably blogging more about it as the event gets closer. I hope to hear some of your ideas soon!

Big thanks and lots of love,

Amelia x

Awareness

It’s started again.

To give them credit, it took me a while to get it, this time around. I genuinely believed that a disproportionate number of my friends were going abroad for sustained periods of time.

Then finally it clicked – a number combined with an arbitrary ‘thing’, a place, or a sweet, or a type of pony, whatever. Yes, folks. It was the return of the ghastly ‘awareness-raising’ update.

Check your inbox. Chances are you’ll have seen something like this:

“Girls! I just don’t feel like anyone is commenting on my Facebook wall at the moment, and it’s bringing me down. I feel unloved and devoid of attention. I’ve decided that we should all confuse the male population, poor things, by posting nonsensical statii (that’s a thing!) that will surely garner lots of comments and widespread bemusement.

Want to join in? Follow these instructions.

Oh, and if anyone asks, yeah….it’s like, raising awareness for breast cancer and stuff. “

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t exactly that. But I’m afraid I’m showing no mercy this morning. The general upshot is that people then post these ridonculous updates which in no way relate to the topic, and in NO way raise awareness.

Awareness of what? Breast cancer? Oh, what’s that? I’ve never heard of it. I think we all know what breast cancer is, and that, in general, it’s bad. I would be less brutal if the original message sent around reminded women to check the health of their own breasts, or to contribute something to charity, or….well, anything, really.

And I am not blameless (I am never, ever blameless.) I myself have done it. I mindlessly went along with it, not really engaging my brain, not wondering for a second how exactly this was doing anything for anyone. It isn’t getting people to donate. It isn’t getting anyone to give up their time to help, and as I’ve already mentioned, it doesn’t even remind women to check themselves. The messages sent round seem to be geared more at confusing the male population.

‘But it’s fun!’ you cry. Is it? ‘Fun’ for me is getting tanked up on pink bubbles and doing the Charleston with Cumberbatch. Not popping a random series of words on my Facebook page and pretending I’m doing something useful.

I Googled it, and it seems to be a bit of a ‘hot button topic’, as Adam and Joe are so fond of calling such things. It appears to totally divide the population, with half saying ‘what the hell is the point?’ and the other half going ‘but it raises awareness’. And sure, maybe at first it did, because it was originally about bra colour – related to breasts, see? – and might have happened around the month of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But now, cycle after cycle has rolled by. It’s January and I’m still seeing it. I apologise if you devote hours of your life to fundraising or supporting the cause, and you happen to find it worthwhile to put on your wall. What I can’t forgive is what one blog dubbed ‘Slacktivism’. I Wiki-ed it (welcome back, Wiki!):

“Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research. [1]

Slacktivist activities include signing Internet petitions,[2] joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of Social Network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS describes the term “slacktivist”, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”.[3]

Crikey. Look, this is my second rant-y post in as many weeks. I appear to be turning into Charlie Brooker, but in a dress. I apologise for that, my blog is usually a place of positivity, good humour, and general inspiring bits and bobbles. But I feel strongly about this little conundrum, and I’m going to speak up about it.

My Google search revealed many people who felt the same. The worst thing was reading blog posts by cancer survivors, saying they didn’t get it. And worse still were the voices who spoke up about the ‘I’m 6 weeks and craving’ posts. Aggressive cancer treatments can leave survivors infertile. One woman described how she’d sobbed, convinced that by some weird coincidence a handful of her friends were all pregnant, while she herself would never have children.

Please, just think about it next time. Think about what it’s actually achieving, in real terms. Sure, for a minute or so you might get a smug glow of feeling like you’ve done something – I know, I’m sure I had that when I did it. But come on, girls. We can prove we’re more intelligent than this, surely? Let’s demonstrate to society that we don’t just loll around thinking up ways to annoy/confuse men, like some sort of play by Sheridan.

Let’s accept that we’ve all done it, and it was a bit fun at the time, but that ultimately, IT ISN’T DOING ANYTHING if that is all you’re going to do. There are so many easy ways of getting involved with helping a charity. Just give a bit of money. Can’t afford it? No worries, it’s a recession – how about doing a sponsored run? Not a runner? That’s fine. Donate a bit of your time.

Come on, guys. Don’t be a Slacktivist. You know, you can still post a status about breast cancer awareness? It doesn’t have to tell the world about your bra colour/imply to the social network that you’re pregnant. And please stop trying to confuse The Men.

Peace out,

Amelia

If you read one thing on my blog, read this

As you sit down and read this post, I want you to pretend to be Doctor Who and transport yourself back to your own teenage years. Strip away any thought of children, marriage, university, your first job, everything you know now…feel those years falling away. Can you remember how it felt to be 16? To be 15, 14? How did it feel? Those awkward, self-conscious, hilarious, embarrassing, exhilarating years. Remember how you felt in your own skin. Did you go through an ‘ugly duckling’ stage? Did you wear braces, glasses, carry a bit of extra weight? Did you stay up all night talking to your friends? Did you discover eveything new? Drinking, smoking, having sex, relationships, a social life…

Even if you look back and still want to dig yourself a hole for those moments when you felt unbelievably uncomfortable, you probably still think it was an amazing time. Even if you scraped through your GCSEs, experienced your first painful breakup and your first breakouts, you might still look back and smile. For me, my teenage years were entirely self-absorbed. My worries seemed huge. WHY had I left my homework until the last minute, again? Would I be carded if we went to a proper club? Why couldn’t I afford the shoes I wanted? Oh, the delicious vacuity. I look back now and think about how I felt. I thought I knew everything. Some days, I thought I could take on the world. Others, I didn’t think I could get out of bed. I was a raging mess of hormones, laughter and precociousness. Perhaps you were similar.

Are you there? Are you back there, wandering school corridors, frequenting coffee shops, huddling in the only bar known to serve the underage? Ok, good. Now I’d like you to imagine that, in the midst of all of that wonderful turmoil, the most unthinkable thing happens. Perhaps you just have flu that you can’t seem to shake off. Maybe you find something a bit lumpy – but that’s nothing new, because your body seems to change everyday. Possibly that little mark near your elbow seems to have changed a bit. You worry, because you’re a teenager and everything seems like the end of the world. Maybe you tell a parent. They might seem concerned, or maybe they just tell you it’s probably perfectly normal, and not to worry about it. You might go and see your GP. They too might tell you not to worry – after all, they probably have hundreds of teenagers in every week, worrying themselves stupid.

Maybe you lose or gain weight. You just don’t feel quite right. You go back to your GP. They might take a look and refer you onwards. You’re more than worried by now. You get your referral, and you’re thoroughly checked out. And some time on, you get a phone call that you never, ever thought you’d get. You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer, that huge, ugly word that automatically inspires fear in all of us. It’s a word that shouldn’t really penetrate the world of a teenager, and yet it is, for six young people every day in the UK.  Your world feels like it’s closing in, and your identity is thrown into question – the identity you’ve been striving to understand anyway. And bit by bit, the things that make up who you are slowly get taken away. The more it progresses, the less control you have over your own life. Everything, from the time you get up to the time you go to bed begins to be taken away from you. What you eat, what you drink….maybe even your hair. At a time when a spot on your nose can seem utterly catastrophic, imagine how it would feel to lose your hair. You can imagine the rest.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this. You might well have stopped reading, because it’s just a bit too uncomfortable to read, and you want to look away and not think about it. Well, I just wanted you to think about some of the issues a teenage cancer patient has to go through. Why? Because I want to talk to you about a charity that I am currently working as an ambassador for: the Teenage Cancer Trust. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I want to explain a little bit about what they do, and why they’re very worthy of your support.

The Teenage Cancer Trust was founded just over 20 years ago by a group of people who found out what a hard battle teenagers with cancer faced. Teenagers used to be either treated with young children or old people, so were effectively alienated from the people on their ward. Anyone who has been in a hospital knows that for the most part, it’s not a good place for a young person to be. When you’re young, your bedroom is your sanctuary. To be taken away from that and plonked on a ward with people more than four times your age is not conducive to recovery. Teenagers tend to need to visit hospital a lot as they can get some of the rarest and most aggressive forms of cancer, due to their developing bodies. The original group raised the money to build the first Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Middlesex Hospital in 1990.

So you see, TCT need to raise funds not just for supporting teenagers and their families, and educating young people on recognising cancer (all things that they do exceptionally well), but they need money to build units for young people. They’re currently finishing work on a ward at the Royal Marsden in Surrey, which has cost £3 million. TCT wards are beautiful and unique, and designed to create a comfortable and enjoyable environment for the young people, which in turn leads to them having more strength to fight back. TCT aim to give teenagers back some of the control they lose in their lives, by making them completely in control of their surroundings. They can control lighting and sounds, have individual computers with constant internet access, TV screens, and ‘common rooms’ that look more like university halls than a hospital.

Everything is designed to make a teenager still feel like they are first and foremost a teenager, and that the cancer is secondary. Games tournaments are held on the Wiis or Playstations fitted on the ward. A special sound proof room is provided, where the young people can plug their iPods in on the outside, and listen to music at top volume without disturbing anyone. This can be cathartic if someone has received some bad news, or just needs some alone time – they can even go there at 3am in the morning if they need to. All staff are specially trained to deal with teenagers, and it shows in the way they interact with the young people. TCT are providing an unbelievable service that is so, so essential to these young people, and can help give them back their quality of life.

TCT units provide a positive and stable environment for teenagers to go to. Units feature ‘schoolrooms’ where teenagers can study, read, and even take their exams if they want. Many former TCT unit patients go on to good jobs, to sixth form college, or to university, and this is in no small part due to the encouragement and positivity that TCT provides. It’s so important for a teenager to feel like a teenager, and this is exactly what the Teenage Cancer Trust give them. In fact, I’m going to stop talking and let the teenagers tell you exactly what they think themselves:

I hope you’ve felt inspired by this blog. There’s so much more I could tell you about this amazing charity, and all the services they provide, but I’ll wait, because I’m already at well over 1200 words.

We’re currently setting up a fundraising outpost in Tunbridge Wells. Although the Royal Marsden is in Surrey, it’s our closest unit. We need people with ideas, with passion, with empathy…and you can give as little or as much time as you’d like. I’ll keep posting about TCT, but please comment on here or find me on twitter @ameliafsimmons for more details. We want to raise as much as we can. TCT is a very small charity who receive no government funding, so fundraising is incredibly important. I’ll keep you posted on upcoming events and ways you can get involved with this truly inspirational charity. Meanwhile, check out http://www.teenagecancertrust.org and ‘Like’ their Facebook page.

Thank you so much for reading.

Amelia x