Filling out college or job applications is a normal part of life for most teens and young adults. But for cancer survivors wanting to start college or a career, it can be a daunting task.
“These patients may have conquered cancer, but now they face a whole new challenge,” says Sandra Medina-George, vocational counselor at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. “Transitioning into college, trade schools or the workplace can be a difficult adjustment.”
The Adolescent and Young Adult Career and Vocational Counseling Program, launched more than 20 years ago under the leadership of Martha Askins, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, helps patients move beyond cancer by connecting them with educational and career counseling.
“Treatment is much more advanced today, and children with cancer benefit from comprehensive behavioral, psychosocial support programs like this one,” says Askins, who is also a clinical psychologist in Pediatrics.
Through the program, patients focus on pursuing higher education and transitioning into a job that fits their desired career path. As a vocational counselor in the program, Medina-George has helped many patients follow their dreams with the help of strategic roadmaps designed specifically for them.
Medina-George doesn’t just guide patients through the college application process. She also finds schools that best fit each patient’s needs, and provides resources to help them master college entrance exams and navigate the financial aid process.
“We guide patients to a career path or field of study that they are most likely to enjoy and in which they’ll be successful,” said Medina-George.
Julian Vasquez was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 7. After receiving vocational counseling at MD Anderson, Vasquez, now 27, enrolled in the Bridge to Career Human Services Program at Texas A&M University. The two-semester program trains students who have developmental disabilities for careers helping others who are disabled.
“I have two passions,” says Vasquez. “Making music that has a very positive message and giving back to the community that serves the rehabilitated. I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue these goals.”
Other services available through vocational counseling include transitioning patients into the workforce, teaching job-seeking skills and interview techniques, and critiquing résumés.
“Some cancers and even treatments may affect a patient’s abilities to think or process information,” says Askins. “This could be devastating to some patients who envisioned specific career paths that may no longer be realistic to pursue.”
Askins says the assessment tools used in the program, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test that helps identify strengths, can help determine if the patient’s desired career is in their best interest. The assessment tools and vocational counseling can also help guide patients who are unsure of what they want to do.
“The ability to see that there is quality of life after cancer is an important part of recovery for any patient,” says Askins. “Our program gives patients the confidence to move beyond treatment and pursue normalcy in their lives.”