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Q&A: Services Young Cancer Patients Need

May 2008

Children, teenagers and young adults with cancer have physical, emotional, educational and social needs that go beyond cancer treatment.

How can parents or patients ensure they are getting all the help, support and guidance they need?

Answering questions on the topic is Martha Askins, Ph.D., director of the Child, Adolescent and Young Adult (CAYA) Outreach program at the Children's Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson.

What needs do young cancer patients have?

Cancer patients who are 18 years old and younger may need emotional support to help them through medical procedures or to deal with their diagnosis. Some patients need tutoring so they can keep up with grade school or high school classes during treatment. Other patients may be preparing for college and need vocational counseling or help with applications.

Young patients also need opportunities to connect with their peers on a social level.

Where can patients find this kind of support?

Different cancer centers offer varying kinds of psychosocial support. Patients or parents can ask their nurses or other members of their medical team if there are any psychosocial services available, or they might visit their cancer center's Web site.

More cancer centers are developing psychosocial programs for young patients. There is a growing awareness of the specific needs of adolescent patients, who are either finishing high school or beginning college.

In fact, our education director at M. D. Anderson is now the president of a new national organization called Educating Children With Medical Needs. She and I help hospital professionals throughout the country develop appropriate standards for education programs for young patients, no matter what the illness.

How does M. D. Anderson support young patients?

Each newly diagnosed patient who is 18 years old or younger receives a consult by a CAYA Outreach coordinator who works with the patient to see what services he or she may benefit from. CAYA Outreach offers the following services:

Child and adolescent life

  • Patient and family education
  • Preparation before and moral support during medical tests and procedures
  • Transitioning to post-treatment life
  • Ongoing support for teenagers and young adults
  • Peer support groups

Education

  • Academic instruction by qualified teachers:
    • In the classroom 
    • At the bedside 
  • Facilities for teleconferencing and videoconferencing 
  • Academic enrichment activities such as:
    • Creative arts
    • Writing
    • Music
    • Science
    • Sports and recreation 
    • Field trips
  • Coordination of education plan with home school

Career and vocational guidance

  • GED and SAT preparation
  • College entrance applications and scholarships
  • Discovery of career interests
  • Job interview skills
  • Job placement assistance

Psychology and neuropsychology

  • Psychological assessment and counseling 
  • Neuropsychological and developmental testing

Why are psychological assessments available?

Cognitive assessments might be helpful for some patients in their academic planning. We like to develop an understanding of the individual's strengths and weaknesses. These could be pre-existing or associated with their cancer or cancer treatment.

We look at several areas of cognitive function, such as: 

  • Visual ability
  • Intelligence 
  • Memory

Are families included in outreach services?

When our teams work with the children, we treat the family unit as a whole, so our support includes parents and siblings. Our child life specialists help prepare siblings and parents for visiting patients in the Intensive Care Unit, for example. We can counsel family members who are concerned about cancer in a warm, supportive environment.

Why is education important to young cancer patients?

Often school is the last thing families are thinking about after a cancer diagnosis, but it provides normalization for the children and helps them retain their self-esteem.

It's also very important to keep up with schoolwork during cancer treatment so that when patients complete treatment, they can seamlessly re-enter their school and be on track. We offer academic instruction in a classroom so patients can enjoy the socialization as well as the instruction.

We also want patients to continue pursuing their goals. By helping them with career aspirations, we're sending them a message that they have a future. It inspires hope.

Where can I find more information about CAYA?

Call 713-792-6868 or e-mail kidsrule@mdanderson.org.

M. D. Anderson resources:

Children's Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center