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NZ CanTeen president student helps young people with cancer

NZ CanTeen president and University of Canterbury student helping young people with cancer

December 23, 2014

While many young people are enjoying the beach over the holidays, University of Canterbury student Rachel Allan has been helping young people face up to cancer.

Allan is the New Zealand president of CanTeen and she is doing her very best to make a difference in the lives of many of the young people with cancer in New Zealand.

Up to 200 young New Zealanders are diagnosed with cancer every year. CanTeen supports 1600 young Kiwis between 13 and 24 who are a mixture of patients or young people with a cancer diagnosis, their brothers and sisters and people who have lost a brother or sister to cancer.

``I am able to apply a number of aspects to the job, not only as a young person living with cancer, but the increasing knowledge from my psychology, human development, mental health, Maori health studies and the skills I am learning in the role about governance and management in a not for profit sector,’’ Allan says.

``This time of year is a hard time for our members and their families. My life was turned upside down because of cancer in our family on Christmas Eve five years ago. Thanks to CanTeen, I have been able to find many positives out of a heart breaking loss. Now I couldn't imagine my life any other way. This year, many young people may be having Christmas in hospital, or at home, in fear of what 2015 may bring for them and their future.

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``As a young person, I believe you should be fighting with your parents, not fighting for your life. CanTeen prides itself on its member-led philosophy. The young people we support are involved at all levels of the organisation, they make up the committees in our 14 branches and they represent the membership on the national board of directors.

``Alongside our passionate members who drive the direction of the organisation, CanTeen employs youth workers in all 14 branches who are of great support to our members and who specialise in everything from fundraising to counselling. There is also a group of staff who work from our national office in Auckland which includes our chief executive, general manager of member services and our marketing and fundraising manager.

`` I joined CanTeen in November 2007 after my older brother and only sibling, Ben, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I met other young people at CanTeen who had experienced the same things as me: the guilt, the helplessness and the loneliness that came with being a sibling of someone with cancer. After two years of treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, his cancer suddenly returned on Christmas Eve 2009 and on January 5, 2010, Ben died.

``Losing Ben was incredibly hard. CanTeen supported me in so many ways. My family received a grant to go towards the cost of Ben's funeral. I had practical and emotional support from members, staff and volunteers who knew Ben. And to this day, people listen when I need to talk about him, and don't act weird when I need to cry because I miss him. CanTeen is and always will be a safe place for members to be themselves.

``Being involved in CanTeen made me realise my love for people and my passion for using my experience to help others. In 2012 I began my social work degree at the University of Canterbury. Without the things I have learnt about myself, the leadership skills I have gained and the amazing opportunities I have been lucky enough to experience through CanTeen, I may never have chosen social work as an option.

``This role has meant a significant amount of travel, mostly to Auckland. I am Canterbury born and bred and am proud of it. I love telling people I am from Canterbury and acknowledging the impact both CanTeen and social work studies at the University of Canterbury have had on my life and on this role.

``I am excited to see where the experiences I have gained from CanTeen and the degree and connections I have made at university will take me in the coming years. I am positive that my work with the organisation, many communities and agencies will make a huge impact on my employment, my career and my future,’’ Allan says.


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