We all need to listen to children's health worries

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The Independent Online

Young people are self-centered (I know, I was young once). It can be maddening for their parents, teachers and everyone else, but it's a crucial part of the growing-up process.

I was reminded of that while reading my colleague Emily Jupp's excellent article about the delayed diagnosis of her melanoma (if you missed it, you can read it here: tinyurl.com/8qos7tb).

It was because Emily herself knew something was wrong with her body that she finally got a doctor's attention; it was because of her tenacity that the outcome was positive. This is Teenage Cancer Awareness Week, to highlight the many cases in which young people have received a delayed diagnosis because healthcare professionals didn't acknowledge their worries. Well-founded worries, as it transpired.

Teenagers and young people, thanks to their inbuilt self-interest, are better at "listening" to their own bodies than the rest of us. The rest of us – distracted by the commute, the weekly shop, a kid's missing PE kit – pinball through life, ignoring signs of ill-health and exhaustion.

(I know about this too: four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The only reason I went to my GP was because one day during my morning shower, I couldn't find the scrub-mitt I usually used, and lathered my body by hand. I felt a small but distinct lump.)

We should be thankful that kids have a healthy dose of vanity and, well, benign selfishness. But it's easy to brush off a sixth-former who's complaining of a throbbing head or aching limbs as trying to skip school or recover from a party. They know the difference between the two, and we should all listen: parents, doctors, teachers. If I thought that one of my children had a serious illness I wouldn't rest until everyone up to and including Jeremy Hunt knew about it and was doing something about it, but I've been guilty in the past of adopting my own mother's attitude to children and illness: if you're not unconscious and/or bleeding from the head, get up and go to school.

Now that I've read the testimonies of young people who had to push and push to get a diagnosis of their cancer, I will be contacting my childrens's school to get a team from the Teenage Cancer Trust along to educate young people about the illness and how to speak to their doctors. Please do the same, you can get more information here: independent.co.uk/delayeddiagnosis.

It's only a shame that it takes a special "week" to get us talking about it.