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Program Helps Young Cancer Patients

CancerWise - May 2008


By Sara Farris

One young cancer patient needed someone to ease his fears. Another needed help applying for college and finding scholarships. The oldest patient wanted to know how he could finish high school away from home.

All three boys found help during cancer treatment through the Child, Adolescent and Young Adult (CAYA) Outreach program at the Children's Cancer Hospital at
M. D. Anderson. The program addresses the unique emotional, social, psychological and educational needs of cancer patients 18 years old and younger.

While these types of psychosocial services vary at cancer centers nationwide, one thing is the same: All young patients need support not only to get through cancer treatment, but also to get on with their lives.

The following patients are three examples.

Children need support

Lisa Rester and son, Sidney

Five-year-old Sidney Rester had a slow-growing, benign tumor and was referred to M. D. Anderson for a specialized form of radiation treatment called proton therapy.

The big treatment machines didn’t bother him, but getting poked by a needle to undergo anesthesia before proton therapy did.

With the help of his nurses and Carolyn Martin, a CAYA Outreach child life specialist, Sidney was able to get through each treatment. In fact, he developed a game with Martin that served as a fun distraction when he was about to undergo proton therapy.

Working toward a future

Bryson Boyd

Bryson Boyd turned 18 at M. D. Anderson – a birthday made memorable by the cake and treats brought in by his nurses. The Bridgeport, Texas, native recently finished his last round of chemotherapy and is in remission.

Now, his focus is on college and future plans, but he may face certain challenges as a college student, such as having to miss class for follow-up appointments.

CAYA Outreach vocational counselor Sujin Ann-Yi has guided him through the college application process, finding special scholarships and working with his preferred college to address any special needs.

“Bryson is my first child to go to college, so it’s a new experience for us,” says his mother, Susan Boyd. “Add on the fact that he is a cancer patient, and it’s even more important to make sure we’re taking the right steps. Fortunately, Sujin has been our liaison with the college and has been a good resource for answering our questions.”

Bryson says that having cancer has taught him lessons that he will take with him to college.

“My life after cancer hasn’t changed much in terms of what I do," he says. "I’m still involved with a lot of activities at school, and I work at my family’s business. However, having cancer has made me realize that there are more important things to life than the little things. Cancer has made me look at the bigger picture and not take anything for granted.”

Far from home, closer to a cure

Max Becker and counselor liaison Jameel Smith

Unlike most teenagers, when Max Becker found out he had leukemia, he was somewhat relieved. Because of intense headaches he had been experiencing, he was afraid he had a brain tumor, but leukemia was something he knew about because he had given a presentation on the disease in high school.

He looks at his disease as a challenge that he must conquer.

“I saw this ad once, which has become my philosophy in life,” says the 19-year-old with a smile. “No pain, no gain. No challenge, no glory. And sometimes, no risk, no fun.”

When Becker came to M. D. Anderson in December 2007, he had just finished the fall semester of his last year in high school. He wanted to continue with his schoolwork and eventually attend a university in the United States. Through the CAYA Outreach program, he was connected with counselor liaison Jameel Smith.

The two worked together to set up a homebound instruction program for Becker and found a private instructor to help him prepare for the SAT exam. With several credits already under his belt (as well as fluency in Spanish, German and English), Becker is well on his way to completing his high school curriculum this year.

“You have to stay positive no matter how hard life treats you and always wear a smile,” Becker says. “If I’ve learned anything through this, it’s to enjoy every second of life.”

M. D. Anderson resources:

  • Children's Cancer Hospital

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center