A guide to going to hospital for the first time

What’s life like on a ward? It’s hard to imagine if you haven’t stayed on one before. It can take a while to get used to sharing your space and spending time in a clinical environment, but most people say that dealing with boredom is the worst bit! It's possible to get something positive out of the experience, even if you have to stay there for a while.

Where will I be treated?

It depends on your age, your cancer type and what services are available in your area.

If you’re aged between 16 and 18, your treatment should be at a Principal Treatment Centre (PTC) for young people. These are hospitals specialising in treating teenage and young adult cancer. You may also be treated in a PTC if you are 19 or over but it depends on your diagnosis.

Get to know your options for your place of treatment

Will I have to stay in hospital?

It depends on your treatment. Some young people need to stay in hospital for long stretches of time. Or, it may be possible for you to receive some or all of your care in a day care unit, without having to stay in hospital overnight. If you have day care treatment, but you have to travel a long way to get there, the hospital might offer you accommodation.

If you do have to stay in hospital, it’s good to know what to pack and how to keep yourself occupied.

Advice and tips for a hospital stay

What’s the ward like?

Wards vary widely depending on where you are. If you’re staying on a teenage and young adult ward, it’s likely this will be a Teenage Cancer Trust unit.

Some have a day room where you can watch TV and chat to others, while a kitchen may offer opportunities to socialise and make yourself a drink or snack. There may also be rooms available to have quiet time by yourself or do something creative. Some wards for young people even offer areas where you can use computers, play video games or watch DVDs.

Adult cancer wards can look daunting in the beginning. Remember that the most important things can be hard to see at first – like the caring and dedicated professionals who at your side throughout your treatment, or the chance to form friendships that can provide a whole new layer of support. Faces will become friendly and familiar, the procedures will become routine and you’ll soon feel much more at home in your surroundings.

Will I get any privacy?

You should be able to have quiet time by yourself, or with your family and friends. At the same time, some of the most valuable support can come from other people in a similar boat. So although you’ll need privacy sometimes, try not to cut yourself off from those around you. Often people end up finding that the friendships you make in hospital really gets them through.

Will anyone be allowed to stay with me?

If you’re treated on a young person’s ward, you may be able to have one person stay overnight on your ward. While this may be less available on an adult ward, each hospital is different so check with your care team.

What if I don’t like where I’m being treated?

It’s never easy to adjust to new and unfamiliar surroundings. If you’ve had a negative experience, don’t be afraid to talk to a member of your care team. They could help give you a clearer picture of what’s going on. Sharing your thoughts and worries with the professionals looking after you could help put your mind at ease.

For any persistent problems, you may find it helpful to get in touch with your local PALS. It makes sure the NHS listens to patients, their relatives and friends, and resolves concerns as quickly as possible.

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