Cancer In Young Adults ... Through Parents’ Eyes

Narratives & Stories

Katy's Story

Katy had intensive treatment for ovarian cancer when she was a 19 year old student and is now the mother of a healthy baby girl conceived without any medical intervention. She and her husband work in the Christian Ministry.

Fact File: Katy

Home TownNorwich
Age at diagnosis:19
HospitalsNorfolk and Norwich
Royal Marsden, Chelsea
Occupation at
time of diagnosis
Student at University of Manchester

Sequence of Events

September 1993Pain in left side at weekend
Visit to GP Monday
Suspect ovarian cyst – request for scan at Norfolk and Norwich
November 1993Appointment at N & N for scan
Shows possible cyst on left ovary, but much larger growth on right ovary. Appointment made for surgery in December (vacation).
December 1993Surgery at N & N. Delay in obtaining results. Discharged for Christmas and appointment made at Outpatients for early January. Advice to visit GP after one week.
Visit to GP who telephoned hospital to see if results were available. Results showed teratoma from right ovary, but harmless cyst on left ovary. Right ovary had been removed in surgery.
Recommendation was referral to Royal Marsden as type of cancer unusual for N & N and greater expertise at dealing with this type of cancer.
January 1994Referral to Royal Marsden. Recommendation – course of chemotherapy.
Jan. to March 1994Four chemotherapy sessions. Normally admission to hospital on a Friday and staying till the following Thursday with the next session after a fortnight at home
Since March 1994Visits to Outpatients at Royal Marsden. Check-ups following normal pattern of monthly, then 3 monthly, 6 monthly and now annual (since 5 years from end of chemo).
Results of check-ups have been satisfactory.

Issues Raised

The timing was at a stage in Katy’s life when everything was changing. She was just starting University. I would have liked to get the initial hospital appointment before she went to Uni. The fact that she had been in pain and was waiting for an appointment added to the normal parental anxiety of offspring leaving home for the first time. Until the problem arose I had looked at this stage very positively. Both my husband and I had been to Uni and thought Katy would enjoy the experience as well as benefit from the education. I had also been at Manchester.

This first year was very disrupted. Katy had one term at Uni, then spent the second term based at home and was in and out of hospital. Her course was Middle Eastern Studies with a high language content. She was studying Turkish and Arabic. On the suggestion of the Professor, she continued studying Turkish at home and sending in work to be marked and set aside the Arabic. She did not return to Manchester for the Summer Term except to take the Turkish exam (which she passed). Katy worked as a kitchen assistant about 30 hours per week in a residential home until the end of August.

The following year Katy was in the second year Turkish group with the friends she had made on the course in the first term and in the first year Arabic class with the freshers. The course was a four year course with the third year normally spent abroad The next year was when Katy’s original year was abroad so she stayed in Manchester and was in the second year but also had come classes with other groups. After that Katy had her year abroad, which consisted of two five month spells – one in Palestine and one in Turkey and then her final year in Manchester, graduating with a II in 1998.

The overall effect on University study was not very great. Katy just graduated a year later. The Department was very helpful. When Katy first saw the Professor and explained the problems, she said he was most helpful. He was much more used to students visiting him because they wanted to give up and change courses – usually because they could not get on with the Arabic (especially the script). Being a small department may well have helped them to be more flexible, but the continued contact and having some constructive work to do did help in between chemo sessions.

There was more impact on the social life of uni as Katy effectively switched years. In her second (mixed year) she had a foot in two years, but after that her original group were not in Manchester at the same time as her.

Support and Effects on Different Groups


Naturally my husband and I were anxious about the situation, but the day to day organisation of the hospital sessions kept us extra busy. My own family had had several cases of cancer including both my parents who had died of it. At the time I had three cousins who had had cancer within the last three years and they were very supportive – mainly telephoning as they all lived in Yorkshire. I had no close family.

My husband has close family (i.e. in relationship – not distance). His mother (who was 80 at the time) was very distressed about it. She lives with my sister-in-law in Devon and we were in regular contact by phone. Each time Katy was in the Marsden for her chemo, they sent her a parcel with a collection of items such as puzzle books, novels or new pyjamas.

Visiting was a problem with Katy being in a London hospital. We got into a routine of me taking her there on the Friday, her boyfriend at the time visiting her on Saturday (he was at Bristol Uni) and my husband and I visiting on Sunday. I usually went on the Thursday to bring her home – but my husband went the time it was half-term. Apart from that it was phone calls on the other evenings. I was working long hours at the time.


The timing was just when most of Katy’s school friends had scattered around the country to various universities. She had lots of visitors in the Norfolk and Norwich as it was the fist vacation. Apart from her boyfriend, she did not have any friends visit at the Marsden. Most were simply too far away. One who was at Reading Uni did keep promising to visit, but did not do so. This disappointed Katy more than the many who just wrote to her.

Two friends in Norwich kept close contact between visits, especially the friend next door who is three years older than Katy. Her father had had cancer about two years earlier and has had no recurrence.

As a result of this, we found Katy was back to spending more time with us as parents socially. She had progressed through the normal preference for spending time with her peer group in her teens, but after each week in hospital Katy felt a strong need for a trip to coast or country and spend time outdoors. We tried to have a trip out each weekend as a family.

The effect on Katy’s friends was very mixed. Her boyfriend and girl friend next door were very supportive and helped keep her spirits up. Most had visited her in hospital in Norwich and wrote to her. Two found it difficult to cope with. One kept promising to visit, but did not do so, and we thought that it was mainly because she found it difficult to cope with serious illness. The other was a friend Katy had made at Uni – a flat mate in the Uni residence. Her mother had died of cancer and I suspected that it was opening a not-so-old wound.

We had quite a lot of telephone calls from the parents of Katy’s friends asking for progress reports.


We all three had a lot of support from three churches in Norwich. The one where my husband and I are members had a number of prayer groups and two of these, where at least one member knew Katy and us well, prayed for us regularly and kept in touch with each step. The members of these groups still ask about each hospital appointment. The church where Katy was a member and the one where she had been a member also visited her/us and sent cards and flowers.


The staff at the Marsden took time to explain procedures and gave us a contact telephone number to use in case of any later queries. On our first visit to Outpatients we had a long consultation, with everyone giving us the impression that they had plenty of time to explain the treatment and answer queries. They also involved the family and were pleased to explain things to me as well as Katy. This was quite a contrast to the Norfolk and Norwich where Katy had seen the consultant alone and I had just been in the waiting room. Perhaps significantly, Katy came out from the first scan and asked me what the word ‘malignant’ meant.

Summary of Issues and Comments

  1. Contrast in information and ability to support cancer patients between local general hospital and national specialist hospital.
  2. Teenagers can feel the “forgotten generation” when faced with serious illness. We were watching a TV programme about teenagers with cancer and one of the participants said there were support groups for children and adults with cancer, but no-one seemed to be providing for teenagers’ needs.
  3. Young people may find that their friends are less able to cope with their illness – possibly because most have little experience of serious problems at that age. Although one of my cousins who had cancer in her thirties said quite a number of her friends seemed to be avoiding her. Her comment was that it was as if they either thought she was contagious or that she might “drop dead in front of them”.
  4. Boredom during spells in hospital were the biggest problem for Katy.
  5. Future fertility might become a problem. At 19 Katy was not very maternal and much more concerned about getting well and getting back to Uni. Specialists at the Marsden have not suggested that Katy will not be able to have children, but with only one ovary various other friends and family keep mentioning this. Katy is now married and she and her husband do want children. In due course this could emerge, and no doubt is an issue for others.
  6. Finally – Katy’s comment was “I always thought I would just have my treatment and go back to unit and carry on with my course”.