Outreach grows to help youth cope with cancer in the family

Ms Berenice Lian (second from left), 21, and Ms Geraldine Lim (third from right), 20, part of a group of nine students from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, taking 21 young people aged 11 to 20 on a hike at the Southern Ridges.
PHOTO: Outreach grows to help youth cope with cancer in the family

SINGAPORE - Medical students here have been helping young children deal with their family members' cancer for the past five years.

Now they have expanded their outreach programme to include older children and young adults who are in similar situations.

This has called for a completely different approach, as the older children are more reserved, said third-year National University of Singapore undergraduate Berenice Lian, 21, who organises activities such as camps and outings for them.

"With youth, you're really trying to make friends with them, rather than look after them," she said.

On Saturday, she and eight other student volunteers from NUS' Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School accompanied 21 young people aged 11 to 20 on a hike, on the Southern Ridges trail.

The aim was to give them a fun day out and help them develop support groups with other young people and the facilitators. "I played songs on my phone and we started singing as we walked," said Ms Lian.

" With little kids, I would have been getting them to play games on my phone instead."

Medical students have also been running an annual camp for younger children since 2009.

The Singapore Cancer Society partnered with the medical students to identify participants and organise Saturday's hike.

Said a spokesman for the society: "Our experience working with youth whose parents are diagnosed with cancer tells us that the older children in the family may take on some of the roles, like parenting... and may lose an identity of their own."

This may happen because parents may be struggling with their own treatment regimes and side effects, so they only have enough energy to attend to the basic needs of their younger children, who rely on them more, the spokesman added.

The first pilot session was a single day of activities but the plan is to hold monthly meet-ups with the same group of young people throughout the year.

Secondary 2 student Ng Wen Xuan, 13, whose father has completed treatment for his cancer, said after the hike: "It was tiring but I like challenges and adventure."

The nature lover said he had enjoyed the activity.

"I hope I can go for more walks in the parks with my family," he added.

joseow@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 16, 2014.
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