Going into hospital

If tests suggest you have cancer, you will be referred to a cancer specialist at the hospital. Different professionals at the hospital will be involved in your care.

There are different hospitals you might go to:

  • If you are aged under 19, you should go to a specialist centre for young people (a principal treatment centre).
  • If you are aged 19 to 24, you can either go to a principal treatment centre or an adult ward. Some hospitals have special units for young people.
  • If there is not a unit for young people or principal treatment centre where you live, you will be looked after on a children’s or an adult ward.

The facilities in a hospital can vary, but you can make a hospital stay easier by:

  • taking in personal items such as photos
  • taking in entertainment such as music and DVDs
  • keeping in touch with family and friends.

It’s important to understand what is going on, so do ask questions about your treatment and care. Writing down your questions before appointments may help.

Which doctors will you see?

When you first started to have symptoms, you probably saw your GP. Your GP is your family doctor, who deals with all types of general health worries and problems.

They may have referred you to a specialist for tests, which are usually done in hospital.

If the tests suggest you have cancer, you will be referred to a cancer specialist at the hospital. You may be referred to a teenage cancer unit if there is one in your area.

At the hospital, there will be one expert doctor who is in charge of the team that cares for you. This person is called your consultant. Every time you go to the hospital (for anything from a test to an overnight stay), the consultant will send reports back to your GP so they know what is happening.

We have put together a list of healthcare professionals you might meet while you are in hospital. The list also includes some different professionals who can help with things like money and work. It will help you to understand their jobs and ask them the right questions (see below).


The A–Z of who does what

Benefits adviser

Benefits advisers are sometimes called welfare rights advisers. They can help people get payments from the government if they need it. These payments are called benefits. They can also help you apply for grants from other organisations and charities.

Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or keyworker

A nurse who specialises in a particular illness. They may also be your keyworker. Your keyworker is someone who will keep in touch with you and provide any extra support or information you need.

Community nurse

A nurse who can care for you at home. They can give you any medication you need, and provide other nursing care. They are also called district nurses.

Counsellor

Someone you can talk to about your feelings and worries. They’re trained to help you understand your feelings so that you can cope better.

Dietitian

Someone who can help you with eating and nutrition.

Doctors

You may meet some of the following doctors:

  • Consultant – an expert doctor. They are in charge when you are given treatment in hospital. They have a team of doctors working with them.
  • GP – a family doctor. You may know this person already. They can help when you are out of hospital.
  • Haematologist – a doctor who specialises in blood problems.
  • Oncologist – a doctor who is an expert in cancer.
  • Pathologist – a doctor who studies cells and looks at biopsies.
  • Radiologist – a doctor who is trained to look at x-rays and scans.
  • Surgeon – a doctor who does operations.
  • Medical student – someone who is training to become a doctor. They may visit you with the qualified doctors who are treating you, so they can learn about what happens.
  • Palliative care doctor – a doctor who specialises in helping people cope with the symptoms of cancer.

Occupational therapist

Someone who can help you do everyday tasks if you are unwell or unable to do things yourself.

Oncology outreach nurse

A nurse who can visit you at home and arrange activities, like your return to school or university.

Pharmacist

Someone who gives out medicines that doctors have prescribed, and gives advice about medicines.

Phlebotomist

Someone who takes blood samples.

Physiotherapist

Someone who can help you with walking or moving around, if you have problems with this.

Psychologist

Someone who can help you manage your feelings, if you are finding it hard to cope.

Radiographer

Someone who takes x-rays and scans. They also give radiotherapy treatment, which is planned by an oncologist.

Social worker

Someone who can help you and your family with money or work issues or other problems.

Ward nurse

A nurse who makes sure you are looked after in hospital. They will give you any regular treatments you need.

Youth support co-ordinator

Someone who can arrange activities, and help you stay active and social during and after treatment. They are funded by the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Youth worker

Someone who works with young people to help them stay active and social, and to reach any goals they would like to achieve.


Which hospital will you go to?

This will depend on:

  • your age
  • the nearest hospital with the best facilities for your illness
  • where your consultant works.

If you are aged under 19, you should be treated in a centre that specialises in caring for young people (including children). This is called a principal treatment centre. There are principal treatment centres in every UK county. You can search for your nearest one on the CLIC Sargent website.

If you are aged 19 to 24, you should be offered the choice of being treated in a principal treatment centre, or an adult ward that has been approved to treat your age group.

Some hospitals have special units for teenagers and young adults. You can see where they are on the Teenage Cancer Trust website.

If there is not a unit for teenagers and young adults or a principal treatment centre close enough to where you live, you will be looked after on either a children’s or an adult ward. Where possible, you should have some say in which part of the hospital you will be in, unless you are admitted as an emergency patient. Your doctor may have suggestions, but you can ask to see the other options and discuss it with your doctor before making a decision.


What is hospital like?

If you have never been in hospital before, you might be surprised by what it is like. You are there because you need care and treatment, but that doesn’t mean you will be in bed all the time.

There will be different facilities available depending on the hospital, and which part you are staying in.

There might be a day room, where you can watch TV and chat to friends and family. There may also be a kitchen where you can make yourself drinks and snacks.

Wards vary in size – there may be a lot of beds, or only a few. There may also be a few single rooms available. You might find a single room useful if you are feeling unwell and need some peace and quiet.

How long you will need to spend in hospital will depend on the type of treatment you need. You may go into hospital during the day and then go home again after the treatment. Or you might need to stay overnight. For some treatments, you may need to stay in hospital for longer.

Will there be facilities for young people?

This depends on which hospital you go to. If you go to a principal treatment centre or a hospital with a special unit for teenagers and young adults, you will be with other people of your own age.

You will also be cared for by nurses, doctors and maybe other workers (such as youth workers) who are used to working with teenagers and young adults.

As well as a day room, some young people’s units have rooms with computers, internet access, games consoles, music and DVD players.


How to make hospital life easier

It may take a while to get used to being on a ward with other people. It often means having to fit in with everyone else’s mealtimes and sleep patterns. It may also feel strange to suddenly lose your privacy if you are used to having your own room at home.

But there are lots of ways to make your stay in hospital easier and more comfortable.

Here are some tips from young people who have been in hospital:

Make yourself at home

Do everything you can to make your space in hospital your own. You may have your own room, or just a curtained cubicle on a ward. Take in pillows, cushions, photos – anything that will help you feel more at home. Sometimes you can take your own duvet in too.

You can close the curtains around your bed whenever you want to be on your own.

Bring entertainment

Take in a phone, tablet, or a hand-held games console – anything that will keep you entertained. You could download TV shows, films and books onto your phone or tablet, so that they are there if you need them. And take lots of books and magazines. You could ask your friends and family to bring in new ones when they visit.

Pack comfortable clothing

Unless you are having tests or need to stay in bed, you can wear your everyday clothes in hospital. Make sure you pack things that are comfortable and make you feel good. If you forget anything, ask your family or friends to bring it in.

Talk to other young people

You should have the chance to get to know other young people in hospital, especially if you are in a unit for teenagers and young adults. This can help you to feel more settled and comfortable in hospital. You may also be able to go out of the hospital with friends or family sometimes – just check with the staff on the ward first.

Stay connected

If you are in hospital a long way from home, try to stay in touch through phone calls, texts, social media, emails or letters. Let your family, friends or partner know that although you are in hospital, you are still the same person and you want to stay in touch.

Education

Making the effort to keep up with school or university work may help to pass the time. Your school or university should be able to arrange for you to do some work in hospital. If necessary, ask someone close to you (like a parent or an adult family member), your specialist nurse, or your Clic Sargent social worker to talk to them about this.


Your friends and social life

You may sometimes feel quite isolated in hospital. Your friends are probably aware of this, but may not know what to say to you.

It’s not always easy, but if you feel up to it you could ask a close friend to visit you in hospital. If you haven’t seen them for a while, it might be a bit awkward at first. But you will soon relax with each other again, and they will see you are still the same person.

Seeing close friends in hospital can help to boost your confidence. As you start to feel more confident again, you could arrange to catch up with other friends. This could be face to face, or by texts, video, phone calls or social media. Reconnecting with your friends will probably help you feel better and more like yourself.

The most important thing is not to rush things. You may worry about missing out on things your friends are doing, and this is understandable. You might find that you drift away from friends while you are having treatment, for example if you stop going to school or university for a while. But if you have friends you are close to, you will stay in touch and it won’t take long to catch up.

If you use social media, you might find the Facebook pages of some organisations for young people with cancer helpful. For example the Teenage Cancer Trust, Teens Unite, Clic Sargent and the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group. You could also visit jtvcancersupport.com – a website for young people with cancer, which lets you upload and watch video blogs.

I got left out of certain things because they thought I was too sick to come, or that I wouldn’t want to. I wanted to be treated like everyone else, so that was quite frustrating.

Ellis

My friends visited me in hospital and I think it shocked them as I was in bed. I don't think they thought of me as ill, as I carried on doing everything.

Ruth


Asking questions

When you are nervous or anxious, it can be hard to take in lots of information. Most doctors realise this, which is why your consultant should always check whether you have any questions. Even if you feel shy or embarrassed, they will recognise how important it is for you to find out and understand what is going on. One way to make sure you get the answers you want is by writing down your questions before an appointment. That way, you can take them with you as a prompt, or to show your doctor or nurse. Taking a family member or friend with you might also help – they can ask anything you forget.

If it helps, when you see your consultant you could ask them to write down the important points for you. They may recommend a booklet, website or video that answers your main questions. Remember that you can ask as many questions as you like. It is your body, and you have a right to know what is happening.

Making sure you are included

You may find that the doctors and nurses talk directly to the adults and not you. This may make you feel like your questions and thoughts don’t matter.

If you find this happening to you, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. You might be able to explain to an older family member that you are feeling left out. That way, they can make sure you are included next time you are with a health professional.

I really appreciated the fact that my consultant actually talked to me directly. This meant that I felt like I was more in control of my treatment.

Shelbee


Questions you could ask about going into hospital

Here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor or nurse.

  • How long will I have to stay in hospital?
  • What tests and scans will I have?
  • What is the hospital like where I will be having my treatment?
  • Do I have a choice of where I am treated?
  • Will I have my own room?
  • When can people come and visit me?
  • What do I need to bring with me?