What is mentoring?
Children and young people with cancer experience specific challenges that are related to their condition and treatment. These may be of a physical, mental or social nature, and can include hair loss, fear of a relapse or difficulties at school. Affected children and young people find it easier to open up to people of a similar age who have had similar experiences. Mentoring is not intended to compete with essential specialist care, but to complement it. There are also issues such as physical experience, appearance, sexuality and partnerships, etc. that young people or young adults with a particular disease do not want to discuss with either professionals (doctors, nurses or psychologists) or their parents. Moreover, breaking ties with parents becomes increasingly important during adolescence. Issues that are essential to the psychological development of adolescents with cancer may therefore go unaddressed. Talking about these matters to peers – i.e. people of the same age who do not have comparable experience of a disease – is also often difficult due to the lack of shared experience. Furthermore, young people who do not have cancer frequently feel overwhelmed, which gives those who do a feeling of being alone.
Talking to people who have had similar experiences of disease, who have gone through the same or similar things and are not part of the professional care team is a useful source of help and support. The benefits are enhanced if these people are a similar age to the patients. Conversations with them are an opportunity for patients to express their feelings, ask questions and air problems. Mentoring encourages young people to address the issues facing them.
While it can never replace specialist support and care – such as that provided by psychologists and psychotherapists, for example – mentoring breaks through isolation and empowers affected young people or adults to actively face up to their disease. Recently diagnosed young people and young adults realize that they are not alone in their experiences, and inhibitions and shame can be broken down, which makes it easier to talk to a professional.