CanTeen: soul survivors

Kathrin Kobus

It was a FamilyFunfest with all the usual activities, face painting, a DJ, board games, fun races in a hall and outside on the astroturf at Clanna Gael Fontenoy.

But this, first, family event organised by Canteen Ireland, was an afternoon party with a bit of a difference. All the invited teenagers who came along with parents and siblings in tow, have or have had cancer.

NewsFour spoke with some of them, like Anna Sargent, 14 years old and from Dundrum. She was diagnosed with bone cancer back in 2013 after pain in her lower right leg wouldn’t go away. After she couldn’t move at all at a friend’s birthday party her worried parents took her to the hospital.
Initial treatment was given at Tallaght and afterwards, further treatment was given at Crumlin Hospital. Anna talks calmly and is very composed and almost reserved about it. “I had to grow up fast to face all of it. Six months chemo, then three months radiotherapy and another four months chemotherapy again. I missed a lot of fifth class because I was in hospital.”
It was a social worker who got her family into contact with CanTeen Ireland, a nationwide support group for young people between the ages of 12 and 25 who have or have had cancer.

The group CanTeen was founded back in May 1990 by healthcare professionals and now Evelyn Griffith is managing the group. “In a way they lose their childhood, teenage time. It’s taken away from them. We want to give something back. Give them a chance to meet up with other teenagers who came through the other end of their treatment.”
She can count on the help of her 25 volunteers, who are her steering committee. CanTeen Ireland offers the young people who join them support meetings where the teenagers can talk about their cancer, the treatments and how it has affected them and their families.
One of her volunteers, Liam Quinn, is the effective chairperson, as he dubs it himself. “I had Hodgkin lymphoma back in the early nineties and they put me in an adult ward. I was one of the first to use the group as a patient and now I am giving something back with volunteering.”
There are about seven to eight weekend trips per year. CanTeen is the only Irish support group especially for young people with cancer. Membership is free and currently there are above 260 members.

“We all love the trips. This summer we went to Disneyland, Paris. And it was great. The best trip of my life, well so far.” Says Ashleigh Kiernan, also 14 from Dublin. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 7 in 2010. “I missed second class because of the treatment, but I was so happy when I could walk to my communion with the special crown a friend of my father designed especially for me.“

It was a gloriously sunny autumn day and everybody had a good time, and this first FamilyFunDay was surely not the last. Anna and Ashleigh like Liam Quinn are now cancer-free and have the normal problems of any other normal teenager. The Junior Cert of third year Secondary School, early next summer.
For further information and to support CanTeen Ireland text CANTEEN to 50300, or visit them on

by Kathrin Kobus