Charity offers shining beacon of hope for adult cancer sufferers with no-one to turn to

Too old to rely on parents, too young to join the countless support groups for elderly patients – who is there to turn to when you are diagnosed with cancer in your 20s, 30s or 40s?

This was the question Chris Riley, of Milton Avenue, Highgate, asked when he received the devastating news that he had leukaemia just weeks after celebrating his 40th birthday.

Feeling isolated, Mr Riley turned to the national charity, Shine Cancer Support, shortly after the network for adults was founded in 2008.

He is now co-chairman of the charity’s London branch and wants to reach out to anyone who feels hit by loneliness.

“It’s difficult because you’re young and your parents find it particularly hard – the idea of their child dying before them,” Mr Riley, now 45, said.

“I also found that a lot of your friends abandon you for many different reasons. People don’t want to face mortality at that age and people don’t know how to deal with it.”

He added: “I needed more support, and that’s why I went to Shine. It was quite frustrating, because you want to talk about it, not all the time, but you need to let it out.”

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The support group gets together once a month but its meetings are far removed from the stereotypical image of people sitting in a circle in a church hall revealing the stories behind their illnesses. Instead members go for dinner, to a bar, or go bowling, as anyone else in the same age range would do.

For the first time this year, all the charity’s support network groups flocked to Bournemouth in January for a weekend of relaxing by the seaside.

“The group has taken all the mental pressure off the illness,” said Mr Riley, who is also chairman of The Miltons Residents’ Association in Highgate. “Being involved has really built my confidence, and I’ve made some really good friends who probably will be friends for life.”

It has been five years since Mr Riley was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a disease that progresses very slowly and can be kept under control with treatment for many years.

It is rare for people under 40 to contract the illness and about 75 per cent of sufferers are diagnosed after they reach 60.

“Right on my 40th birthday I had a letter from the hospital,” Mr Riley said. “I wasn’t diagnosed but I knew something was wrong and the hospital was being very cagey about it.

“It seems strange but the support group normalises it. You feel isolated, so when you meet other people you realise it’s not the end of the world.”

n To join email london@shinecancersupport.org.uk.

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