I’m Neal. I’m 18 years old, and I’m a high school senior from Dallas, TX. One of my favorite things in the world is uncontrollable laughter. From messing up a note on my trombone in jazz band (womp womp), to flipping into the lake during a morning row, I can find myself laughing about a lot of my mistakes, foibles, and experiences.
Yet, cancer was different. As a sophomore in high school, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It really wasn’t a laughing matter. Treatments, appointments, and side effects made my treatment difficult. I tried my best to keep up with my schoolwork, too, which added even more stress. And what also didn’t help was I rarely encountered any teenagers; every time I came in for an infusion, they had request for a longer bed because I towered over the other younger patients. It was a little amusing, but it made me feel even more lonely.
Eventually, I went into remission, thanks to the work of my amazing doctors and nurses. And thanks to the love and support of my family and friends, and the guidance of my teachers and mentors, I transitioned back into my daily routine. I’m very grateful that I had all of these resources in place to help me back up after such a difficult moment in my life.
I know there are a lot of patients who don’t have the same resources to overcome the challenges of teenage cancer. Teenage cancer patients are a unique group— we’re changing from children into adults, each at a different stage in that process. Adolescent and Young Adult Care is especially important for patients with cancer diagnoses. With our unique circumstances and situations comes unique stressors. As a patient, I was in an awkward place: I didn’t want to be treated like a baby, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready to be treated like an adult either. But at the time, I really couldn’t articulate this feeling.
When I came across Teen Cancer America, it felt like someone had read my mind. The work that TCA does across the US means so much to me. As a Young Advocate, I’m striving to contribute to this positive change in AYA Care. I hope to become involved in bringing teen-oriented resources to my local hospital and beyond.
It was hard to even break a smile as I was being treated. As much as I appreciated the activities in the pediatric ward, they really weren’t for my age group. I was isolated, detached, and just sad. But I know now that we can improve the experiences of teenage cancer patients. I want to do just that.