Unit gives support to teens with cancer

Positive future: Ivans Litvinceus and Caroline Wiltshire
Positive future: Ivans Litvinceus and Caroline Wiltshire
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IVANS Litvinceus came to South Yorkshire from Latvia four years ago and soon made Rotherham his ‘second home’.

He landed a job as a chef at a local pub and made lots of new friends in the area.

Relaxed atmosphere: Ivans Litvinceus

Relaxed atmosphere: Ivans Litvinceus

But last year he suddenly began experiencing a pain in his pelvis.

Although at first reluctant to get it checked out, as the pain got worse and other symptoms started to show, he decided to go and see the doctor.

Ivans, aged 23, said: “I came to the UK four years ago from Latvia for work and I soon settled into my new life.

“I became a chef at a pub which I really enjoyed and made lots of new friends so Rotherham quickly became my second home.

“But things changed last year when I started to get pain in my pelvis. At first I thought it was just one of those normal aches we all get but, at times, I was finding it difficult to walk and get about. When I started noticing blood in my urine, I went straight to the GP.”

Samples were taken and Ivans, from Kimberworth, was referred to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

The result was that devastatingly, in December last year, he was diagnosed with a Ewing sarcoma - a rare type of bone cancer, which in his case had attacked the soft tissue.

Ivans said: “This was quite a shock but I didn’t feel too scared because I knew I was in good hands and that I would be having expert treatment.”

He attended Weston Park Hospital’s Teenage Cancer Trust Unit where they discussed his treatment which involved six three-week rounds of chemotherapy.

In May this year Ivans also had to undergo surgery to remove the tumour along with part of his bladder.

“The operation has definitely been the most challenging aspect so far,” he said.

“I have had problems with the catheter and urine infections which has meant I have had to have repeated stays in hospital. I am currently having six more three week rounds of chemo. Obviously this makes me extremely tired but I am slowly starting to recover from the operation.”

Ivans said it had been a difficult eight months, but he had tried to remain upbeat in the face of such adversity.

“I try to remain positive although sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I had not been affected by cancer,” he said.

“One of the good things that has come out of my experience is the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit.”

The facility, which is part funded by the Weston Park Hospital Charity, is one of only 12 in the country offering a dedicated service to young people battling cancer.

Ivans said: “It is an amazing place and is so different from a normal adult ward with more privacy and everything that a teenager or young person would need like DVDs, internet access, TVs and Nintendo Wii equipment.

“We also have a specially designed living space with settees and a conservatory area with much needed outside access which is great.

“The atmosphere is relaxed and not intense, I feel free there because it is like being at home, even though you are in hospital.”

He said the role of youth support co-ordinators was vital in helping patients like him deal with what they are going through.

“They help out in any way they can, offering support, organising day trips out and just keeping us entertained,” he said.

“They also openly involve family and friends which is a wonderful relief as a patient.

“All the staff are brilliant and, despite our situation, we have a laugh which is so important. The nurses treat you like friends not patients.”

Caroline Wiltshire is one of the youth support co-ordinators at the unit. Her job is to provide a wide range of cognitive, recreational, and social activities for patients to support them develop, be empowered and deal with their diagnosis while receiving treatment.

She said: “The support I offer varies enormously depending on the individual patient and what they want.

“Sometimes I may meet someone every other week for a cup of tea and a chat. Other times it may be more intensive so I see them every day.

“The priority for me is to treat the young person as a young person first and the cancer second. We want to help them carry on with their usual way of life as much as possible so that they aren’t overwhelmed by hospitals, treatment and what they are going through.

“Those adolescent years can be a difficult time for any young person but it is 100 times harder for those who also have a cancer diagnosis as it turns everything on its head. The aim of my role is to support them throughout this time and to hopefully make it a little easier.

“WPHCC provides special treats such as luxury toiletries, visits to the cinema and pizza evenings which helps the young person to feel normal.

“These may only sound like small things but they make a real difference to the lives of the patients during their cancer journey.”

Ivans said his experiences had affected him both physically and emotionally - his battle with the disease having also changed his outlook on life.

“The cancer has brought limitations to my life. I have not been able to continue work which has been difficult as I loved my job,” he said.

“I have to be careful with exposure to the sun and I am very tired but having cancer changes your point of view. I had a busy life before and never thought of giving to charity but now I see at first hand what a difference the money raised by Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity makes to people like me. It is a wonderful cause that changes lives and one that I hope as many people as possible will support.

“I definitely have more thoughts on what I want to do with my life now and am looking forward to a positive future.”

The Teenage Cancer Trust Unit

Six young people are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK

Weston Park Hospital’s Teenage Cancer Trust Unit (TCTU) is a five-bed unit which treats teenagers and young people aged 16 to 26

The unit, one of only 12 TCTUs in the country, sees approximately 40 young people with a new diagnosis of cancer every year Patients come from a wide catchment area mainly covering South Yorkshire, North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire, but for certain types of diagnosis and treatment patients may come from across the country

Thanks to the generosity of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity fundraisers, the TCTU receives £45,000 per year from the charity to make the unit feel like a home-from-home for patients

To support the work of WPHCC, please call 0114 226 5370 or go to www.wphcancercharity.org.uk where you can watch a video from Ivans and Caroline and find out how you can help.