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Family Matters - Spring 2009

Keeping Patients on Track with Their Education and Career Goals

Tackling final exams, applying for college and financial aid, deciding on a degree, searching for a job — these are tasks any young adult would find challenging and, at times, overwhelming. Add a cancer diagnosis to the mix, and the complexity kicks up to another level.

Many patients from the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson find themselves in a unique situation, balancing cancer treatment with a desire to move forward with their education and career. Sujin Ann-Yi and Sandra Medina serve as vocational counselors who work with patients and childhood cancer survivors to help them achieve their educational and occupational goals.

Studies reviewed by James Gurney, Ph.D., in the Journal of Clinical Oncology show that childhood cancer survivors graduate from high school at similar rates as their siblings. However, these cancer survivors are more likely to require special education services and are slightly less likely to graduate from college.

In addition, many survivors find it more difficult to find employment or to maintain employment in comparison to their healthy counterparts, according to an analysis conducted by Anna de Boer, Ph.D., in the Journal of Cancer.

“When young patients are faced with cancer, it’s easy for them to lose sight of their college and career goals because they must direct all of their attention to getting through their cancer treatment,” says Ann-Yi. “Our job is to serve as a resource to keep patients and survivors on track with their long-term goals.”

Ann-Yi and Medina bridge the gap as each patient transitions from life as a high school student to life as a college student or professional. They provide a variety of resources to patients and survivors, including:

  • Career counseling and planning
  • Vocational/neuropsychological assessment to help identify areas of vocational interest and aptitude
  • Assistance in accessing information about colleges/universities, vocational programs, college testing centers, student disability services, etc.
  • One-on-one and group tutoring for various scholastic exams (i.e., GED, THEA, SAT, ACT, etc.)
  • Assistance in applying and preparing for college or vocational programs
  • Assistance in obtaining financial aid resources (i.e., scholarships, grants, etc.)
  • Correspondence as an advocate or liaison with outside agencies for school-related information (i.e. colleges/universities, high schools, alternative learning programs)
  • Assistance with job searches, employment applications and resume writing
  • Preparation for job interviews
  • Access to a comprehensive library consisting of vocational and educational resources (i.e., handbooks, scholarship information, college entrance exam material, etc.)

“We work with patients and survivors in a variety of ways,” says Medina. “For example, we’ll research which colleges are best equipped to handle students with physical disabilities, we’ll find scholarships designated for cancer patients, and we’ll work with a student’s college advisor to work around follow-up medical appointments or treatment.”

Medina and Ann-Yi primarily work with patients and survivors between the ages of 16 and 25, including patients treated in adult service areas within M. D. Anderson.

“Part of surviving cancer is never losing sight of your goals in life,” says Ann-Yi. “There may be some uphill battles along the way, but we’re here to make things easier for patients as they move forward with their lives.”

To request assistance from one of the vocational counselors, call 713-792-6194.

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