Advice from a Teenage Cancer Survivor

carly-freelsCarly Freels was a typical high school junior—she was a friend to many, she was an accomplished athlete, and she was looking forward to her senior year.

All this came to an abrupt stop when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her world changed overnight, but her faith never wavered.

In this short article, Carly shares some advice about coping with cancer and dealing with a friend or family that has been diagnosed with cancer, from personal experience.

Nearly 16,000 U.S. children and adolescents under the age of 20 are diagnosed with cancer each year. I am one of them. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma when I was 17 years old.

While nothing can fully prepare a person for cancer to enter their life, I want to share a few things that helped my family and me cope with my diagnosis.

Friendly Advice for Friends and Family

If you are a family member or close friend of someone recently diagnosed with cancer, the best advice I can give you is to show them sympathy, but don’t treat them differently. Most of the time, you won’t have been in a situation that allows you to say, “I know what you’re going through.” That is more than OK.

While I was going through treatment, I didn’t need my friends and family to be able to relate to my experience. What I needed was people who simply were there for me. People who could say, “I know this is hard, and it may seem unfair, but I am here for you no matter what you need.”

The fact that my friends and family were still able to joke with me, laugh with me, and participate in everyday events alongside me gave me a sense of normalcy in an unsure situation.

Once I knew who would face this storm with me, I was comfortable in seeking help and encouragement when I needed it. The fact that my friends and family were still able to joke with me, laugh with me, and participate in everyday events alongside me gave me a sense of normalcy in an unsure situation.

Despite my diagnosis, I still longed to have that routine high school life I was used to. By not treating me differently just because I had cancer, my friends and family helped me to hang on to a somewhat normal life.

On Redefining Beauty

Carly's oncologist, Dr. Anna Franklin, gives her the all-clear to ring the cancer-free bell at her final appointment.

Carly’s oncologist, Dr. Anna Franklin, gives her the all-clear to ring the cancer-free bell at her final appointment.

One of the biggest obstacles I had to mentally overcome was the inevitable fact that I would lose my hair. For anyone undergoing chemotherapy, this is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s especially so for a girl in the prime of her high school years.

I started out wearing a wig that almost perfectly matched my once long, flowing brunette hair. However, as time passed, hiding behind a wig just didn’t seem right. My cancer was nothing to be ashamed of.

To help me keep my hair loss in perspective, I decided to cover my mirror with verses and inspirational quotes about inner beauty and confidence. That’s when I began to see my shiny scalp, not as the uncomfortable elephant in the room, but as a sign of my strength and overcoming.

After only a few weeks, I let go of the wig’s security and found safety in knowing I was fighting a good fight. That decision is still to this day one of the best I have ever made. Letting go of the world’s definition of beauty and redefining it for myself has changed my perspective on so much, even now that I am finished with treatment and my hair has grown back in.

No one ever expects cancer to enter their life. When it does, it becomes a learning process for everyone involved. Have patience with the friends who have trouble relaying their good intentions, treasure the ones who never leave your side, and find the beauty in every victory.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Carly Freels is the author of When Faith > Fear…, an autobiography that touches on how to keep a positive outlook after a cancer diagnosis.

Diagnosed with cancer at age seventeen, Carly’s once stable high school life filled with classes, sports, and friendships, was flipped upside down. Although the trials that came with her treatments were not easy, Carly continually prayed for hope in hardships and peace of mind through the chaos.

She tells her story by reflecting on the past and enhances the reading by including the journal entries she kept through her diagnosis. Carly wrote this book with the intention of providing courage and support to those undergoing treatment, but she also hopes to offer advice to the family and friends indirectly affected by the patient’s condition.


Book Excerpt

Journal Entry

April 30, 2012

I went in to get the test results today from last week’s biopsy but everything is kind of a blur. Once I heard the word cancer, I didn’t hear much after that. I went very light-headed for a while and began to hear only high-pitched ringing as I watched the doctor’s lips continue to move ~ until the room went black. I didn’t process any of what he was telling me after that. My mom was fanning me as she cried, and my dad was holding my hand tightly.

Even though hours have passed since the diagnosis, I am still in shock. I just don’t know how to handle this…


To learn more about Carly or to order a copy of her book, visit

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2016.



About LFCT

This is a blog about CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 5 December, 2016, in Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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