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What About Me? Challenges and Resources for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Patients

Network - Fall 2008

By Deborah E. Thomas

Tanya shares her experience dealing with lymphoma as
a young adult.
Videographer/Editor: Deborah E. Thomas
Producers: Sara Farris, Marisa Mir, Deborah E. Thomas

Adolescents and young adults have unique challenges to face when hit with a cancer diagnosis. Not only has the survival rate stayed relatively the same since 1975, resources are limited for adolescents and young adults compared to younger and older cancer patients.

However, things are starting to change. Beginning in the mid-1990s, adolescent and young adult programs and networking groups started forming and have rapidly gained popularity. Marisa Mir, program coordinator for Anderson Network, says even though these groups are quite new, they are meeting a great need for a population that is hungry for information and have been successful in reaching out to young cancer survivors through the Internet. 

Most recently, Anderson Network began collaborating with the AYA Program in the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson and the Beth Sanders Moore Young Breast Cancer Survivors’ Program to develop a Facebook community page for young survivors called the Young Cancer Connection. Mir says the purpose of M. D. Anderson’s Young Cancer Connection Facebook page is to be “a one-stop shop where patients and survivors between the ages of 15 and 45 can learn about the resources M. D. Anderson has to offer and also what other resources are available.”

Anderson Network currently provides a telephone support line and a cancer survivor message board, which is popular with young adults since most are Internet savvy. Anderson Network also is planning to launch a social networking group, Cancer180, for young adults.  Cancer180 will be for patients, survivors, caregivers, families and friends in their 20s and 30s who wish to connect with other young survivors in a social environment, such as a restaurant, local hangout or sports venue. Mir believes this type of support group is therapeutic since members can relax and feel supported by just being with peers, without having to elaborate on their own diagnosis or listen to others describe their cancer journey. A person is welcome to share experiences, but not pressured to do so.

Challenges for adolescents and young adults facing cancer

Adolescents may:

  • Miss classes due to cancer treatment and may get behind in their studies.
  • Have to postpone college entry.
  • Have friends who do not know how to relate to them since they may not have encountered cancer in their own lives.
  • Become very lonely because they feel distanced from their peers.
  • Not find a suitable clinical trial since few target the adolescent and young adult population.

In addition to these concerns, young adults may also:

  • Have to cut back on course hours each semester and postpone graduation, if in college.
  • Have mounting bills if they reach their parents’ insurance age limit and find themselves with no coverage.
  • Have difficulty interviewing for a job since cancer treatments sometimes affect cognitive skills.
  • Have challenges finding an employer that hires cancer patients/survivors.
  • Fall in the gap when a new job’s insurance coverage has not kicked in yet after a cancer diagnosis.
  • Have a hard time securing health insurance that accepts members with pre-existing conditions.
  • Want to start a family, but may be dealing with infertility issues caused by cancer treatment.
  • Be moving up the career ladder, but when cancer hits, are overlooked for promotion.
  • Have to stop career advancement in order to deal with the cancer treatment.

To learn more about adolescent and young adult programs, visit:
NOTE: Pages will open in a new browser window. M. D. Anderson does not endorse external sites.)

Additional resources:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center