Teenage Cancer Trust — Southampton Unit Visit

Leapfrog are very proud to have the Teenage Cancer Trust as their chosen charity for this year. As I also sit on the charity’s committee, I am able to feed back to Leapfrog any information regarding how the charity works and the fundraising efforts achieved, as well as what the proceeds have been used towards. Although the fundraising we do goes towards many projects including research into teenage cancers and various educational programmes, the largest recipient of our most recent fundraising efforts has been the Southampton Teenage Cancer Unit. Based within Southampton General Hospital, the unit boasts a 6 bed inpatient and 4 bed outpatient facility for patients aged between 13–24 who are being treated for cancer. Until last week, the unit had only been conveyed to me through pictures and verbal accounts — however myself along with a 3 other members of the committee who had also not visited previously, were invited to the unit’s 1st birthday celebration. The experience was one that will stay with me for life — and I will do my best to describe it to you.

Just to give you a brief history of the Teenage Cancer Trust Guernsey Appeal — this branch of the charity was established in February 2011, and since then, the committee has worked tirelessly to raise money through various fundraising events including balls, afternoon teas, bingo nights and various individual committee member challenges.  To date, the Guernsey Appeal has managed to raise nearly £400,000 — an extraordinary achievement over such a short space of time.  As touched on previously, the main bulk of this fundraising has gone towards the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit — where young cancer patients living in Hampshire, Dorset and across the Channel Islands can be treated with others their own age in an environment suited to their needs. This unit is consistent with the existing 27 the charity have already built in NHS hospitals across the UK since 1990 and is a place solely for young adults. Before these teenage units were erected, patients aged 13–24 would be placed on a children’s ward if under 18, or with elderly patients if over 18, often feeling isolated when facing a cancer diagnosis. Since the opening of the Southampton unit, Guernsey teenagers with cancer have been able to receive its advanced treatment and take advantage of the cutting-edge facilities available. The main aim for the Guernsey Appeal now is therefore to commit completely to continuing to fundraise towards the running expenses of the Southampton Teenage Cancer ward now that it is operational.

As you can imagine — from the description above I was extremely interested in seeing how the unit is in reality. Walking down the hospital corridors towards the unit, you felt like you were in a hospital. Now although that sounds obvious, it was not only the clinical look that made it feel that way, but also the general mix of patients of varying ages, the quiet atmosphere and the feeling of delicacy, like you were walking on egg shells. But turn the corner into the Teenage Cancer Trust unit where we were met by the kind-hearted ward sister Louise Hooker, and you are suddenly hit not only with a rush of colour due to the green, orange and blue walls, but also with a sense of hope. The majority of the walls within the unit are curved, creating a warmer atmosphere, and one which lets you know you are in a different environment to other medical spaces. As this unit caters for a plethora of regions across the South, pictures have been assembled of sights that remind patients of home — so for us Guernsey folk I noted a picture of the harbour, Bluebell Woods, and a good old Guernsey donkey! Instantly this gave me a sense of safety and familiarity, as opposed to the cold, white walls that adorn traditional medical practices.

We then were lucky enough to visit one of the unit’s 6 inpatient rooms, which as explained to us by the ward sister are often at, or very close to, capacity. We met John, a patient currently using the resource, who looked very much at home in his joggers and t-shirt on Facebook at his desk! What struck me most about the rooms was that they had clearly been designed with a young person’s needs in mind — there was a hospital bed and the necessary treatment equipment needed to treat the patients at one end of the room, but the other consisted of other requirements for individuals of that age. There was a large study desk and chair, as most of the inpatients are either still at school, university, or in full time employment and in need of undertaking work throughout their time at the unit. There is also, what initially appears as a large, corner window seat, but is in fact a bed for any relatives or close friends to stay, which is a vital addition to the room and is another way that Teenage Cancer Trust has thought to make their patient’s stay as comfortable as possible for them. There are also two boards on adjacent walls to pin personal pictures, write messages, place any received cards and mail, or to simply decorate in a way to make this feel like home. Another quirky feature was what looked to be a fireplace, but in actuality was a digital screen where patients had a choice of a number of calming imagery, including a fish tank, a stream and clouds rolling by. There is also plenty of room to store many a belonging — and a rather convenient cupboard just below the television housing an Xbox — a luxury many in a ”normal” hospital can only dream of. It soon became clear to me that if you could accommodate a young person in a facility such as this even for a section of their treatment, their mindset will change to one of positivity in an instant due to its encouraging and consoling nature.

Opposite the patients rooms lay a variety of rooms for the doctors and nurses to undertake their daily work. A medical team of teenage cancer specialists whose knowledge creates a body of expertise that is second to none work within the unit, and their demeanor and attitude during our tour showed that they were clearly the right people for the job, making patients instantly feel welcomed. One patient explained that having been on the unit only a matter of hours, it was the first time throughout their diagnosis thus far that someone had treated him like an adult and been able to speak to him on his level. It is this team of influential staff that you could see embodied the approach and optimistic outlook needed to aid a patient’s recovery.

At the end of the corridor you came to a large, communal area and the first thought that came to mind was just how much this reminded me of my university halls. There were floor to ceiling glass, giving an instant sense of space and openness to the room, along with a kitchen area to prepare meals and make drinks. There is also a leather sofa with a television where patients can relax and watch television, as well as choose from one of the numerous board games piled on the bookshelf. A large pool table also lay within the room, as well as a swanky jukebox, so all interests could be catered for. There was also a rather large amount of cake when we visited… although staff promised this wasn’t a regular occurrence, but was only due to it being a celebration of their first birthday. Mind you — from some of the stories the teenagers relayed to me, it seemed a few sugary treats and takeaways made their way into that common room during their time there too!

We also got to see the family room, where patients could go with their loved ones for some quiet time as well as being a place for any further relatives looking to stay over. There was also a four bed day patient unit for those not being required to stay overnight, which again was a light and airy room which was brightly coloured and welcoming.

Once the tour had been completed, I turned to my other committee members and posed what I thought was an obvious observation which was why all hospital spaces cannot be like this? The positivity that exuded from the unit during a time when the majority of those being treated are in desperate need of feeling optimistic only led me to think there is no need for hospitals to be made to feel depressing.

We were then extremely privileged to be invited to the unit’s official 1st birthday party in another area of the hospital, where we were greeted by a number of happy and helpful Teenage Cancer Trust workers who offered us yet more cake as well as a glass of prosecco! Having mingled with a number of current and past patients of the unit, as well as parents, staff and youth workers, we were then delivered a heartfelt presentation. First, there was a short video that was made shortly after the opening of the unit, in which one of those speaking was in attendance of the presentation having completed their treatment on the ward. The humour and positivity shone through from the screen, proving the help provided by the unit really does have such a large impact on the lives of those it treats. A link of this video is below: https://jtvcancersupport.com/2014/05/this-is-southamptons-teenage-cancer-trust-unit/

They then invited 5 individuals up to the front of the room — one current and one past patient, a parent, a nurse and a youth worker —  and all of which interviewed each other in a very relaxed format. This produced some very personal and touching details that you don’t really think of, even as a fundraiser, as to how cancer effects so many people’s lives. For example — one of the patients mentioned that he was diagnosed at 18 on Christmas Eve. The parent of one of the patients stated that, as their daughter had a tumor on her foot and was therefore unable to work, she affectively became her carer for 3 years,  and had to give up work to support them. Another of the patients explained that they had graduated from university with a First, had gained a graduate role through Hewlett Packard — but had to give this up to have their treatment, and effectively put their live on hold until it has been treated.

After this extremely well thought out presentation, our very own Regional Fundraising Manager for the South Louise Scott took the mic, and thanked everyone for coming. You could tell from the emotion in her voice that she was still so passionate about the charity and the work it provided, and having done hundreds of speeches for the Teenage Cancer Trust, the words from those who have seen the importance and significance that the charity can provide still moves her.

Having attended such a fantastic event, not only did it inspire me, knowing that the work we as a charity do can change the lives of so many people that we are unlikely to ever meet but are so worthy of our fundraising, but it also made me want to commit to the charity even more than I do now. It taught me that being diagnosed with cancer as a teenager doesn’t always have to mean your life has come to an end,  but that it is has merely been temporarily paused and in many cases can continue, albeit at a slower pace, with the fantastic help and guidance from the excellent staff and charity workers that provide extraordinary support and facilities for those who need it. Every day six young people from across the UK aged between 13 and 24 are diagnosed with cancer — but we can all help make this diagnosis far more optimistic for teenagers across the UK, rather than it being a negative experience.

Here is a link to the Southampton Unit specifically, but has an abundance of information about the charity in general: Southampton: Southampton General Hospital — Units — Specialist services — Teenage Cancer Trust

If you wish to donate to the charity, please click on the following link — https://www.justgiving.com/teenagecancertrust