Cancer is a disease most of us associate with adults and the elderly, but cases of the disease is increasing in teenagers. Kerry-Lynne Doyle looks at the work of one charity designed to make battling the disease easier for teens
When 13-year-old Melissa Cavanagh had leg pains and a severe sore throat, her doctor was baffled.
He asked her if the pain had been brought on by stress from bullying and even asked her if she could be pregnant.
But when the pain got worse, leaving Melissa in agony, it became clear that something was very wrong.
Melissa, now 16, said: "The pains in my legs were just indescribable.
"It would leave me screaming so I went to the doctors. The doctor did blood tests and I was sent for a brain scan at Sunderland Royal Hospital - and after the scan the doctor said it was a tumour."
Melissa was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes and was sent straight to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle.
In the first year of her teens she was fighting cancer, a disease so often associated with adults.
A day after her diagnosis, she started chemotherapy, initially staying on the children's ward.
Like the hundreds of teenagers diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK, she found herself battling the disease in surroundings designed for young children.
Melissa, of Cresswell Terrace, Sunderland, reflected: "I was in the middle of Year 9 at the time and was about to start my SATs when I was diagnosed.
"In hospital I missed everyone and wanted to do my SATs.
"When I was walking up and down the corridors in the hospital it was full of little kids.
"I was on my own in a little room and there was no-one there who was going through the same thing as me."
Within days she was transferred to another ward in the RVI, specially equipped for young people with cancer.
Built by the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT), the ward is one of eight other units throughout Britain.
Kitted out in bright colours and funky furniture, the unit has TVs, computers, a pool table and an abundance of DVDs, making it a more suitable environment for teens fighting the disease.
Performing arts student Melissa said: "It made quite a difference being there as it was just really nice and felt very homely.
"I got to talk to people my own age.
"It was comforting and it showed me that I wasn't alone and that other people in my area were going through the same thing.
"It just didn't feel like we were in hospital."
Claire Morris, of Sheriff's Highway, Gateshead, was 16 when she received chemotherapy at the unit.
Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare form of cancer which affects 100 young people across the UK each year, she says the ward was an essential source of support.
Gateshead College student Claire, now 17, said: "I was around people of my own age and it was really good.
"All throughout my treatment I never stopped smiling because the nurses were around.
"I don't think I would have coped at all without the ward. It made me get out of bed every day."
Like Claire, Melissa found staying at the unit helped her keep positive.
She said: "You have got one chance in life and you just have to get on with it.
"You might as well make the most of it.
"I was fine with coping with it and didn't really moan about it."
After receiving chemotherapy at the unit, she began a course of radiotherapy throughout Christmas 2004.
Within a few months, the cancer was in remission and Melissa's life began to get back to normal.
During a routine check-up earlier this year she discovered she had a chance to pay Teenage Cancer Trust back for their help.
She said: "On one of my check-ups I saw this sheet saying to put your name down if you were interested in music for an event to raise money for TCT.
"I've been singing since I can remember so I put my name down.
"When I went to a meeting about it a few months later they started discussing the plans for Bandstand.
"I was expecting to shake a bucket or something so I was quite shocked."
The 3 Bandstand concert was held in The Sage Gateshead in September to raise money a replacement TCT unit in the RVI.
The funds raised during the event went towards the £1.5m six or seven bed unit, which is due to open in 2009.
A month before the concert, Melissa discovered she would be gracing the stage alongside Paul Weller, Jools Holland and comedian Ross Noble.
And at first she didn't realise quite how big that stage would be.
Melissa laughed: "I never actually realised how big The Sage was until I got there for the sound check on the day.
"I looked out and thought, `how big is this, like?'."
She sang Strong Enough by Stacie Orrico, a ballad about keeping going during testing times, something which Melissa felt suited the occasion.
She said: "I had sung it before for a talent show but when I listened to it again it was really relevant to the whole thing.
"Singing it on the night was just amazing and it was the best day of my life so far. The ultimate thing was helping TCT.
"It was amazing to give something back."
And, after all the charity has done for her, Melissa plans to give more back in the future.
She said: "Teenage Cancer Trust has helped lots of teenagers and it has been a huge help to me.
"It's a fantastic charity and it helped me to stay positive. I hope to do a lot more fundraising for them - they deserve it 100%."
For more information, or to donate to Teenage Cancer Trust, please visit www.teenagecancertrust.org or call 020 7387 1000.
Teenage cancer facts
Six teenagers are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK and more than 2,200 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Cancer is the most common cause of non-accidental death in teens and young adults in the UK.
Before turning 20, one in 330 boys and one in 420 girls will contract cancer.
History of the charity which helps thousands
In the late 1980s a group of women organised a charity fashion show to fund a children's intensive care heart unit in St Guy's Hospital, London.
A mother-of-four, whose son had cancer at 13, approached the women and they decided to fund a specialist unit for young cancer patients in London's Middlesex Hospital.
In the early 1990s, the women reformed and starting fundraising to build other units around the UK.
After a government report highlighted the need for more specialist cancer units for teens and young adults, the women pledged to build them - each at the cost of around £500,000. To date, the Teenage Cancer Trust has built eight units, including one in Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.
They are developing a further 10 and discussing another 15 in a bid to get units established in major cities across the UK.
Aside from this, the charity organises annual conferences for young cancer patients, provides support and information for patients and their families, and runs an education programme for schools throughout the country.
By the time a teenager turns 15, they have a one in 600 chance of developing cancer. This increases to one in 285 chance by the time they turn 24.
The number of teenagers and young adults with cancer has doubled over the last 30 years and the number of teens with cancer now exceeds the number of children with cancer.
Teenagers' growth spurts mean they contract some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.