“I've gained much more confidence and being with other young people who were ill made me feel comfortable, as we all know what it's like. ”

Our Story

Debbie-Pezzani-and-Karen-Millen-OBE

Debbie and Karen

Teens Unite Fighting Cancer was founded in 2007 by two close friends Debbie Pezzani and Karen Millen.

For three years previous to founding the charity, Debbie and Karen spent many hours with teenagers going through treatment, attending hospital appointments and watching them beat all the odds. They have experienced the heartbreak of teenagers who have no family, or families that are just not able to cope.

They found it almost impossible to imagine having to face cancer at an early age with nobody to give you comfort or support, let alone as a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

A huge issue they realised while spending time with these teenagers is that while they are having treatment there is help on hand from the doctors, nurses and support staff at the hospital but once you leave to go home you are on your own.

The transition from hospital back into family life is often very difficult to cope with. The teenagers suffer many different emotions and can become angry and frustrated, their friends are out having fun and there is no one to talk to who understands what they are going through. This inspired them to establish the country’s first charity dedicated to supporting this cause.

In Debbie’s own words…

deb-chris

Chris and Debbie

“I have been involved in charity fundraising for many years helping raise money and awareness for a number of different causes. I helped Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Frank Lampard establish their charitable projects. It was however, my first visit to an adolescent cancer ward at the UCLH hospital in London back in 2003, that I realised this was a cause close to my heart.

I have 3 beautiful daughters of my own, who were teenagers at the time, and was emotionally moved by the courage shown by the teenage patients with cancer. I made a promise to myself on that day that I would do all I could to help teenagers fighting cancer. The experience of that visit will stay with me forever.

I met a young lad called Chris who alone in his hospital bed with no visitors told me about his situation. Aged 19, he was the sole carer to his two younger siblings. He had just had a stem cell transplant and was very sick. Over the next two years I took Chris and his brothers under my wing, offering to help him with his hospital visits because he couldn’t travel on public transport due to the intense radiotherapy he was having. I also cooked for them and included them in our family.

A year later Chris’ brother was diagnosed with the same disease, in the same place with the same aggression and he sadly died in my arms 18 months later. Chris then turned to me and said not only have I lost my brother but my cancer friend. This is was the impetus behind starting Teens Unite. During the worse days of their lives, the boys had had some of the best days of their life because they had been out with us as a family and were able to laugh.

Chris fought his illness for 7 years and at one stage he was given a 4% chance of survival. I am delighted to say that Chris beat all the odds and is now aged 30 and cancer free. He is a cancer survivor however he still suffers from side effects of the intense medication and treatment he had. Chris is still a big part of my life and in the charity. He says that he still finds spending time with others that understand what he has been through and continues to go through is priceless to him.

I am fortunate to have fantastic family and friends who have been there to listen to all my stories and of my dreams to help all teenagers on their cancer journey. To ‘Unite’ them together so that whilst going through such a tough time in their lives they will have places to spend time together and draw support from each other. Recently, one of the teenagers we support wrote to us to tell us that Teens Unite is his ‘lifeline’. We are privileged to be able to spend time with these teenagers and bring some joy to them on their cancer journey; quotes like this motivate the team to keep moving forward so that we can grow to help more teens.”