There are some organisations that we come across that we realise do incredible work within our communities. One of those is CanTeen. They do an amazing job providing support and services for young people living with cancer. Cancer is a terrible disease. It wreaks utter havoc on people’s lives. In particular, it can be an extremely difficult time if you’re a teenager or young adult and you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. It can be scary and it can be isolating. You can feel like you’re alone, or that you need to take on responsibility far ahead of your years. But if you’re one of these young people, there is a community of other young people across Australia who are in the same situation and who you can turn to for advice and support. CanTeen is an incredible resource and is there to help.
I was fortunate enough recently to be invited to the Tasmanian headquarters of CanTeen to meet with staff, volunteers and some teens who access their services. They talked me through their range of programs and services, and I heard from people at all levels of the organisation, including the national CEO, young people whose lives have been affected by cancer, psychosocial support staff, young people in leadership positions and a cancer support nurse. I would sincerely like to thank them for providing me with a better insight into what CanTeen is about and the services CanTeen offers.
So, if you’re aged between 12 and 25 and your life has been affected by cancer, either through having the disease yourself or having a sibling or a parent with the disease, CanTeen offers services that you may find of assistance. Also, if you’re a parent with cancer, there are resources and information that may help you to talk to the young people in your life about your cancer journey.
Many still see CanTeen as just camps for young people who have cancer. However, its core functions have grown significantly since it was founded a little over 30 years ago. CanTeen does amazing work supporting young people. It really does transform lives. CanTeen allows young people to connect to peers in similar situations and provides phone, email, online and face-to-face counselling, information about living with cancer or living with a loved one with cancer, and youth cancer services.
It provides opportunities for young people affected by cancer to escape the pressures of their daily lives for a while and to make some new friends. CanTeen camps and recreation days give young cancer patients space away from the daily pressure of living with cancer. They can meet other young people affected by cancer who really understand what they’re going through and can learn new ways to cope with cancer. The camps don’t only deal with some of the hard stuff; there’re always lots of fun activities and lots of chill-out time as well.
CanTeen programs are always free and can be anything from half a day to five days long. One of the amazing things about them is that CanTeen organises all aspects of the camps, including accommodation, transport, meals and all activities, to ensure that these events are stress free for the participants. As I said, the camps are a great way to meet new friends who have a real understanding of what young people living with cancer are going through. Importantly, CanTeen also provides information about cancer, its treatment and what to expect. The website canteen.org.au is full of useful information.
An area where CanTeen has really expanded in recent years is in its counselling services and peer support. CanTeen counselling services are flexible so that young cancer patients can talk to a counsellor when they like and how they like. They can get support from a counsellor over the phone, on live chat or by sending CanTeen an email. Support is available seven days a week, no matter where you live, with phone support available until 10 pm. Young people with cancer can join the CanTeen community through its website to connect with other young people in similar situations. CanTeen also has face-to-face counselling available in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle, as well as a group support program called TRUCE for young people dealing with the cancer of one of their parents. A young person with cancer can call CanTeen on 1800 835932 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and to organise a time to see a counsellor.
CanTeen has created a great peer-to-peer network online that allows the thousands of young Australians living with cancer to talk through their issues with others who have been in the same situation. It can be really helpful to read other people’s real-life stories and realise that you’re not alone in what you are feeling. CanTeen also provides great leadership opportunities, with the organisation underpinned by a philosophy of having young people at the centre of everything it does. Members can participate in local leadership groups which enable them to get involved according to their interest and skill in areas such as governance, advocacy and fundraising and as a powerful support to one another online, in person and through programs.
One amazing fact about CanTeen is that it was set up by a group of young cancer patients in 1985 and still has young people affected by cancer guiding their organisation at every level. There are many opportunities for young people to get involved as valued contributors to the organisation. Every young person is empowered as an expert in their own wellbeing, which is really critical. They can also sign up to become a member—there’s no charge—to exercise their vote on matters which affect them and the future of CanTeen. Each local leadership group elects a representative onto CanTeen’s national Member Advisory Council, which is chaired by CanTeen’s national president. CanTeen’s also unique in that the majority of the board of directors are young leaders elected by the Member Advisory Council. The board chair is elected by the board and must also be a young person. You can see that it’s a really inclusive, democratic process for young people.
CanTeen services—as I said earlier, their camps are free—are all free to participants. While they receive some state and Commonwealth funding, they still need to raise significant funds by fundraising each year. Their big national fundraiser is the National Bandanna Day, and this year National Bandanna Day is being held on Friday, 27 October, so put it in your diary. Individuals, schools and other community groups can take part by selling bandanas and by holding a National Bandanna Day fundraiser on the day. You could combine the bandana selling with something like an afternoon tea, a barbecue or other function to help raise some money for this very worthy cause. You’ll be raising money to help CanTeen support young people when cancer crashes into their world.
Recently, CanTeen in Hobart held their Curioser and Curioser quiz night. I was glad to assist this worthy cause by donating a prize. Unfortunately, I was away on committee work and couldn’t attend, but I hear the night was an incredible success: big congratulations to the hardworking team down in Hobart. One of the reasons I fought so hard for the establishment of the Senate inquiry into low-survival-rate cancers is the devastating impact the disease has on children and young people. Through the course of the inquiry I have heard many not only sad but terrible stories of young people’s lives being affected by this disease. I believe we must do whatever we can to improve survival rates. That’s why I’m so thankful that an organisation like CanTeen exists, to make the experience of young people affected by cancer just that little bit easier.
Thanks, again, to CanTeen Australian CEO Peter Orchard and Tasmania manager Shae Chester for hosting me at CanTeen’s Hobart office and to Madeleine, Sally, Vic, Alex, Sarah and Michelle for talking to me about the very important work each and every one of them does. If you know of a young person whose life has been affected by cancer and who is not in contact with CanTeen, can I please encourage you to put them in contact with this organisation, because there is no doubt that it will make their journey through their cancer episode just that little bit better. It won’t stop the cancer, but it will certainly make them feeling less alone and isolated. I have had so many young people tell me how isolated they felt when given a diagnosis. This is really important work. If I can just encourage everybody: please, if you know of a young person affected by cancer, put them in contact with CanTeen. It is a very worthwhile cause.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Thank you, Senator Bilyk. Yes, CanTeen is a wonderful organisation.