Teen cancer survivors helping Levine Children's Hospital patients

Published: May. 19, 2016 at 8:28 PM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2016 at 8:46 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Levine Children's Hospital is in the middle of a unique treatment program that could change the way teens are treated for cancer.

Several teens coping with a cancer diagnosis and treatment are in a mentor support system. Fourteen-year-old Noah Thompson is one of the first teens to get a mentor as part of the pilot program.

Thompson and Will Brown have a lot in common. They like to play video games, they play sports, and they were both diagnosed with cancer.

Noah is in remission, but still in treatment for leukemia. Will, as a survivor, is Noah's cancer mentor.

"So, he helps me get through the rough patches like what do I do when this happens. He understood some of the medicine. He actually had better information about the medicine than my parents," Noah said.

"What I experienced first-hand just to kind of give him a leg up and what he should be expecting," Will said.

The mentor program was set up by Dr. Amii Steele, a psychologist at Levine Children's Hospital.

"It's so important for teenagers and young adults to have peer support. It's just what they are suppose to be doing developmentally right now," Dr. Steele said. "Lots of people say, 'oh support groups - we really need to have those for kids and for teenagers.' Well, we find with teenagers, adolescents and young adults is the last thing they want to do is come back to the medical center sit around in a group."

She's studying if having a cancer mentor improves a patient's quality of life.

"Teenagers know what's going. They know they're missing out. They see their friends on spring break. They want to process that, but maybe not with an adult but maybe with another peer," Dr. Steele said. "This is a pretty unique thing. We're really trying to meet adolescents where they are and with what they're requesting."

Noah was homeschooled for a time and relied on his relationship with Will.

"He was at college most of the time so we texted. We called a lot and we Skyped," Noah said.

So far, Noah and Will are the first pair to be studied.

"It is tough sometimes, because sometimes you just don't want to get up. Sometimes when they give me steroids, my face just grows a balloon and that just hurts my confidence," Noah said. "If I'm not feeling good he understands that's because I'm under treatment."

Will went through the same thing when he was 15 years old.

"One's a blood cancer, one's a bone cancer. They're actually not too far off from each other," Will said.

The hope is eventually any teen diagnosed with cancer at Levine Children's Hospital can have access to a mentor.

"If I could, I would definitely do it again," Will said. Noah said the program has been amazing.

"They know what you've been through because these are child cancer survivors," Noah said.

Besides fighting cancer, their friendship has other milestones to celebrate. Noah's birthday was Thursday, and Will just graduated from college and has a job lined up.

Dr. Steele said they want to study ten pairs of mentors and mentees. Seven pairs have been enrolled so far. Each are required to fill out weekly surveys over six months.

It's a pilot program that could end up being a published study in medical journals.

"This is a pilot, a very small study," Dr. Steele said. "We're trying to expand. That's our hope - to make this available to all kids and families going through cancer treatment here at our center."

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