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CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER TEEN: MY EXPERIENCE AT TEEN HUC
As Teen HUC wrapped up just over a week ago, I realized that I have the unique opportunity to view CBTF’s camps from several different points of view: as CBTF staff, as a mentor and also as a survivor.
I’ve been reflecting a lot about my time at Young Adult and Teen HUC and what makes both camps, but especially Teen HUC a very unique experience.
The Young Adult Heads Up Conference will always hold a special place in my heart as the first time I really connected with my peers. It was also my first major experience with CBTF, which has brought me an unbelievable amount of success and happiness.
Teen HUC is equally as special to me but for a different reason. In a sense, I have the ability to go back in time to when I was a teen survivor. I remember the struggles I went through and how it was a very difficult time in my life. Most teens deal with pressures like wanting to fit in, trying to keep up with school, sports and clubs, planning for college and the future and the stereotypical angst of trying to figure one’s self out and feeling lost or like it might not ever happen. Throw having a brain tumor and a bunch of crazy medical conditions on top of that, and all of those issues are magnified times 10.
When I was a teen, I wanted all of my medical issues to disappear. Of course, I still want that to happen but over time, I’ve learned to accept and deal with them as they occur. Back in high school, I ignored that any of those things were happening to me.
Watching the teens at HUC make me very proud of how far survivor programs have come and how necessary they are to young cancer and brain tumor survivors. Some of the teen survivors I met are amazing advocates for brain tumor education and support. Some are volunteers in their local community. Some bring their warmth and kindness to others, showing a compassion and understanding for others who might be different – a quality that can be hard to find in teens who haven’t had as many life experiences. All of the teens have wisdom and insight that as one adult volunteer at our closing ceremony stated, is something that many people in their adulthood are still struggling to find.
Maybe some of the teens are similar to how I was and want to ignore their medical issues. That’s OK. For them, Teen HUC is one week where they CAN embrace what makes them unique and can set the stage for the future as they grow older.
I look at the teens and how much they have accomplished up to this point in their lives and how they are given great opportunities to gain independence and face challenges head on. It makes me wonder if I had something such as the Heads Up Conference 10 years ago, would my life have ended up differently? Would I have struggled less in high school? Would I have felt more independent at an earlier age?
It didn’t take me long to figure out that there’s no way to answer these questions. A conclusion I did come to, however (and also a sort of reoccurring theme in my life that I can apply to a lot of situations), is that you can only work with what you have. You can’t make something happen if the necessary tools aren’t there but you can adapt to a situation to make it work for you.
I didn’t have HUC or CBTF when I was a teen. I see this as an opportunity to go into Teen HUC and share the things I wish I had or had known about with brain tumor survivors who are in their teens right now. I see Teen HUC as a way for survivors to realize their potential at an early age.
As I said earlier, I have the rare opportunity to see HUC and Teen HUC from many different eyes and can see how instrumental survivorship programs are for cancer and brain tumor survivors. It’s my hope that the importance of these programs will continue to be acknowledged and will grow as children with cancer continue to grow into teens, who will grow into adults, who will have the opportunity to make a difference not in spite of, but because of what having a brain tumor has taught them.