Cat and Amber share their cancer stories

Two young women from Ballymena are sharing their inspiring story of cancer and friendship in support of a new Teenage Cancer Trust charity campaign.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 9:33 am

In 2018 Cat McKenna from Ballymena, who now lives in Belfast, was just 19 when diagnosed with cancer.

Cat said: “They discovered a neuroendocrine tumour in part of my appendix and that it had grown into the right-hand side of my bowel, it was a shock. After I was diagnosed, I felt very isolated from everything. My family and friends, just everything. I did not cry a lot; I was just silently sad for such a long time.”

But five months later Cat’s Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse, Kerrie, who supported her through treatment, let her know that another young woman, who lived just 10 minutes away from her, had been diagnosed with the same rare cancer. Kerrie suggested that Cat meet with Amber Scott, who herself was just 20 when diagnosed, and despite being ‘very different people’ the two have become extremely close friends.

Amber said: “When we started talking about what we had been through we realised that we’d had a relatively similar reaction to things, and that we could relate to each other and have a laugh. Cat adds: “We were both so weird about meeting at first then we ended up sitting in my car chatting for an hour before we went home. It was strange and wonderful. There’s no effort that needs to go into our conversations, they flow easily. We both had to have major bowel surgery and the cancer has left lasting damage. When I talk about the after-effects, she just gets it. That is what is so important to me.”

Teenage Cancer Trust nurses and youth workers make introductions between young people that they support and also run social events that help reduce the isolation and loneliness that a cancer diagnosis at a young age can bring. As well as meeting through their Teenage Cancer Trust nurse Kerrie, who Amber describes as a ‘literal angel’, Kerrie also arranged for them and a group of other young people across Northern Ireland attend a weekend away run by the charity called Find Your Sense of Tumour with hundreds of other young people affected by cancer.

When Cat and Amber were first diagnosed, they kept their cancer and surgery largely secret from all but a few friends and family. And when they did open-up, their wider friendship groups were all supportive. However according to new research from Teenage Cancer Trust during treatment three quarters of young people with cancer found their friendships changed – with more than half (55%) finding friends stopped contacting them as much, and over a third (40%) finding some stopped contacting them completely. That’s why to help with this problem, as part of the charity’s new Friendship and Cancer campaign, Amber and Cat are joining over 20 other young people supported by the charity to share their experiences and tips on how to be a good friend to someone during their treatment. Cat said: “My advice to someone who has found out their friend has cancer is to not allow cancer to have the spotlight over your friend.”

Ballymena women Cat and Amber are backing the Teenage Cancer Trust’s new Friendship campaign