Growing Up with Cancer, review: these brave teenagers were inspirational
26 JUNE 2017 • 8:00PM
Growing Up with Cancer (BBC One) began with 15-year-old Natasha shaving her head and picking which of her wigs to wear today. “My name isn’t cancer, so why should my whole life revolve around it?” she asked. Quite right too. She got through her all-day chemotherapy sessions with positive thinking and bracing blasts of the aptly titled Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi.
Every day in the UK, we were told, seven teenagers find out they have cancer. This affecting documentary followed three courageous patients being treated at The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow. Here, the Teenage Cancer Trust have set up a dedicated unit that was described as “more like a youth club than a ward”.
With games, gadgets, films, a jukebox, pool table and youth-friendly decor, this communal space meant the youngsters could hang out with fellow patients and just be their normal selves – which is therapy enough when you’re shuffling around with a drip and no hair, feeling “like crap” and getting pitying looks from strangers.
If patients had been stuck in hospital for eight months like longest-serving resident Declan, some of it in strict isolation, the boredom-busting nature of the facility was a lifeline. When the 14-year-old lost his appetite, staff even let him have a treat of McDonald’s fries. This cheered him up almost as much as beating grown-ups at Monopoly (Glasgow Edition, naturally).
As optimistic 14-year-old Nairn was told he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he was most worried about his exams. “I’m definitely taking biology this year,” he decided, “so I can know my body better and understand what the doctors tell me. And I need to keep smiling because I know it helps my parents cope.”
Mixing fly-on-the-ward-wall footage with intimate video diaries, this poignant film was ultimately uplifting. Natasha responded well to chemo and was in remission. “I’ll just focus on my health and education now, that’s it,” she vowed. Declan was finally allowed home and was “so happy, I can’t describe it”. Nairn, after being worried about his hair falling out and “feeling uglier when I look in the mirror”, learned to enjoy wearing hats.
Teenagers too often get a bad rap, but this trio were truly inspirational.