Site aims to connect teens living with cancer

When she started treatment for cancer, Lauren Donnelly went from being an active teen taking part in soccer and dance to completely bedridden.

Lauren Donnelly sits in the coffee shop in Georgetown

Lauren Donnelly sits in the coffee shop in Georgetown

TORONTO — When she started treatment for cancer, Lauren Donnelly went from being an active teen taking part in soccer and dance to completely bedridden.

Donnelly was diagnosed in September 2005 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Therapy left her so weakened at times that walking upstairs to bed was an obstacle.

Despite going into remission a month into her treatment, she still had to complete the full 30 months of the protocol, forcing her to drop out of school and spend a total of six months in hospital.

Donnelly had frequent bone marrow aspirates and spinal taps, underwent chemotherapy and had cranial radiation, a preventive therapy for relapse.

The side effects of steroid therapy caused her hips to collapse, leaving her with limited mobility. She also had to be in isolation at times when her immune system was affected by treatments.

“I was 15 when I was diagnosed and that’s the stage where teenagers are starting to gain their independence and they’re coming into their own. For me, it was the opposite experience,” Donnelly said from her home in Georgetown, Ont., west of Toronto.

“I became completely reliant on my parents. I couldn’t go out and socialize and start to do my own thing. I experienced a lot of isolation, and (for) teenagers, it’s difficult for them for them to wrap their heads around going through a life-threatening illness.”

At the time, Donnelly didn’t meet many other teens in the same boat.

But now, the 19-year-old is hoping other young people living with the disease don’t have to face their journey alone.

Donnelly is among the mentors at a new social networking site specifically created for teens with cancer. Teen Connector, developed by the Childhood Cancer Foundation, is designed for those aged 12 to 19.

The website has many features of a traditional social networking site where individuals have profiles and can upload photos but it’s geared to teens in hospital going through cancer treatment, with discussion forums and an events section. There’s even a games section for those who may not be in the mood to chat.

All the mentors have visible profiles of the type of cancer they have and treatments they went through so teens can seek out those who have had similar experiences.

The idea is to be different from traditional support groups, and allow teens to reach out from their homes or hospital rooms, Donnelly said.

“Teenagers are at that awkward social stage where they’ve lost their hair, they’re struggling with their body image issues, and meeting face-to-face in a support group is something that’s not always comfortable,” she said.

“They want to ask candid questions and embarrassing questions, so support groups are not always the most comfortable setting for that.”

Mary Lye said she’ll never forget the moment when she picked up the phone several years ago in her daughter Harriet’s hospital room and heard the voice of a young woman named Sarah.

Lye’s husband had seen a notice posted at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children appealing to those with teens experiencing cancer to contact the foundation’s teen connection program. Harriet was matched with Sarah, who also had experienced acute myelogenous leukemia.

The two spoke, and Sarah even travelled from Kingston, Ont., to visit with Harriet, and they continue to stay in touch.

“For us as parents it was the light at the end of a tunnel that we saw and heard in Sarah, and hope for our daughter too that she could go on to live a normal healthy life like Sarah was,” said Lye, who went on to become director of marketing and communications for Childhood Cancer Foundation.

“That’s how that image of connecting teenagers happened in our lives and I always held that to me.” Wendy Shama, a social worker in the leukemia and lymphoma program at the Hospital for Sick Children, and her colleague, Sonia Lucchetta, published a paper on the psychosocial issues of teens diagnosed with cancer and the development of a program to support their needs.

Shama said it’s important to help them maintain their connection to the community and to encourage them to connect with others going through similar treatment. They run two events a year — Funky Young Women, a spa day for girls — and Boys Night Out — to see a Toronto Maple Leafs home game — aimed at helping to reduce isolation and to facilitate the introduction to others in treatment.

In recent years, online networking such as instant messaging has made it easier for kids to stay in touch, she said.

“If they’re feeling not well enough to get up or get out of their room, they can still be connecting to other teens on the computer,” Shama said.

Donnelly hopes to eventually go to university to study journalism. She’s had both hips replaced and will have to have her shoulders done.

On The Net:

www.teenconnector.ca/accounts/LoginMain.aspx

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read