Dealing with cancer as a young adult

Gabriella Kourie, a young adult cancer survivor, shares tips and advice for younger patients diagnosed with cancer.

A cancer diagnosis is most often unexpected. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults. It’s very different from having it as a child or later in life. At this age, undergoing treatment can be challenging for many reasons. There are various areas of life and activity that are impacted and this can trigger an array of emotions.

Young adulthood is a time to focus on education, starting careers, dating and even starting a family. As a young adult with cancer, you may feel that your life has been put on hold and new concerns may arise, such as medical care as well as payment for treatment related expenses.

While there may be an adjustment period where you may delay goals related to your life plan, it’s important to remember that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to keep you from living a full life. 

Know how treatment will impact your body

It’s in your best interest to understand how your cancer and the treatment you’ve been prescribed is going to work in your body. Ask questions at your doctors’ appointments. Ask about the cancer, symptoms, and treatment plan. 

You can bring a family member or friend with to help take notes and remember things. This gives a sense of empowerment and control but most importantly it gives foresight of how to plan your areas of daily living and compensate for the aspects that may be impacted. 

Stay connected

Finding support, such as reaching out on social media, will help you to stay connected with friends even if you miss work or school. You can also find other young adults with cancer and learn about online communities for added support. Please make sure that you’re able to view other people’s posts and info from an objective perspective. We are quick to compare our lives and when you are going through a difficult time, such as treatment, it’s easy to put yourself into a hole and think negative thoughts. If social media isn’t positively aiding your recovery, then consider limiting your interactions or removing yourself. 

For the more private person, write about what you’re going through. Writing can help you cope with stress.

Movement and daily tasks

You may have exercise and movement as a priority in your daily tasks. It’s important to discuss your treatment regime with a trained oncology rehabilitation therapist so they can guide you in what movements and exercises are safe without impacting treatment but rather improving your tolerance to the medication and turnaround time of healing.


Discussing your diagnosis with your boss or head of educational institution is important as you need to determine your capabilities during treatment. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help even when you’re coping. It doesn’t deem you weak but will prompt those people in this setting to be aware that you may have bad days or weeks and need some extra support. This is better than waiting until you’re struggling or can’t function and will prevent excess time away from studies or work.


Socialising may become an effortful task. You’ll be going through an experience that many others may not understand and relate to. You may feel frustrated when a friend is complaining about traffic or working hours when you’re holding back nausea or dealing with the trauma of hair loss. Be patient with your friends and with yourself. If your tolerance for small talk decreases, this is normal. 

Dating may take a bit of a backseat as you can’t expose yourself to too many germs and social environments. If you’re in a long-term relationship, discuss your feelings with your partner. Sometimes a cancer diagnosis is scarier for loved ones because they don’t know what you’re feeling or thinking. 

Accept your new physical form

If your treatment involves surgery then you need to consider the physical changes you may have after and discuss these with your surgeon. Make sure that you’re able to accept your new physical form and talk to your body daily until you feel comfortable in your own skin. Only when you love yourself can you feel ready to open yourself to dating and loving another person.


Fertility is a big concern for the young adult population, especially those with a hormone-driven breast cancer. There are multiple fertility options, such as freezing and storing eggs, before starting treatment. 

This is a personal choice and you’ll get advice from many people but it’s important to discuss all of it with your oncologist before listening to others.

Gabriella Kourie is a qualified occupational therapist. She further trained and qualified 
as a PORi oncology and breast cancer rehabilitation therapist and is currently qualifying in Lymphoedema Assessment 
and Treatment.

MEET THE EXPERT – Gabriella Kourie

Gabriella Kourie is a qualified occupational therapist. She further trained and qualified as a PORi oncology and breast cancer rehabilitation therapist and is currently qualifying in Lymphoedema Assessment and Treatment.