Real World Health Care Blog

Young Adult Cancer Survivors Need Special Support

Jean Rowe, Young Survival Coalition

Jean Rowe, Associate Director of Support Services, Young Survival Coalition

Young adults are at a certain stage of life development when diagnosed with cancer. They may be thinking about career decisions (i.e. do I stay in this job, go back to school or seek something new), where they want to live (e.g. hometown or move to another city), independently living on their own, and deciding what kind of mate they desire. They are not thinking about their lives being turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.

All too often young adults are told “you’re too young” to have cancer when a concern is raised. This can result in late diagnoses and more advanced disease stage.

Young adults diagnosed with cancer experience interrupted lives. Their careers may be put on hold. They may have to take significant time away from work, which may or may not place their positions in jeopardy. They may have to move back home with their parents, which may involve having to move across the country. They often do not have financial resources (e.g. savings, 401(k)) to address the magnitude of cancer costs. While their peers are going through normal life steps (i.e. going to college, dating, or getting married and having children), young adults with cancer often isolate themselves and feel alone, thinking that their friends and family cannot understand what they are going through.

Anxiety and depression are not uncommon side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy can induce early menopause, a life and health change young women are not meant to experience for another 20 to 30 years. Early menopause impacts sexual libido and causes vaginal dryness. While in treatment and, potentially, for years to come, physical concerns like bone density and cardiac toxicity must be monitored. This could include taking preventative medication post-treatment (e.g. for osteoarthritis).

All of this impacts the young adult’s identity and life as he or she knew it. These side effects can last well past treatment when a young adult “looks fine” to the outside world while, “inside,” he or she is struggling emotionally, physically and existentially. They need and deserve support.

Celebrating its 20th year, the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) is the premier organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women diagnosed with breast cancer. YSC offers resources, connections and outreach so women feel supported, empowered and hopeful.

We offer a multitude of wonderful ways to connect and a wealth of resources. A young survivor can connect 1:1, in person and online (both in support group format and through social media). Our national Summit typically hosts 600 young survivors and their loved ones each year. Our educational materials are available for free to download or order in hard copy through our website. Our support and resources are there so that every young woman diagnosed with breast cancer knows that she is not alone at any stage and at any point in her journey. This includes resources for metastatic young survivors whose concerns and needs deserve attention and support.

YSC also supports Co-Survivors (e.g. spouse/partner, family member and friend). Co-Survivors may instinctively place their survivor’s needs before their own. That can come at a cost; their health could be impacted as well. YSC offers support and resources to our Co-Survivor population.

We want to make sure no young adult and their co-survivors face breast cancer alone. YSC is here to help. Please reach out!

About the Author

Jean Rowe is Associate Director of Support Services, Young Survival Coalition (YSC). She joined YSC in 2011 with a background in clinical oncology social work. She is a licensed clinical social worker, a certified oncology social worker and a certified journal therapist. Her focus includes the crafting, piloting and implementing of supportive and educational programming for young breast cancer survivors, co-survivors and health care providers. As a certified journal therapist, Jean crafted an original program addressing re-establishing intimacy after breast cancer as well as continuing education journal writing programs for mental health and nursing professionals regarding compassion, fatigue, and self-care. She holds a master of social work from the University of Georgia and a bachelor of arts from the University of South Carolina. 

Suggested Reading:

Acquati C., Zebrack B.J., Faul A.C., Embry, L, Aguilar, C., Block, R.,…Cole, S. (2017). Sexual functioning among young adult cancer patients: A 2-year longitudinal study. Cancer, 124(2), 398-405.

Adams, E., McCann, L., Armes, J., Richardson, A., Starck, D., Watson, E., & Hubbard, G., (2010). The experiences, needs and concerns of younger women with breast cancer: A meta-ethnography. Psycho-Oncology, 20, 851-861.

Cheung, C.K. & Zebrack, B. (2017). What do adolescents and young adults want from cancer resources? Insights from a Delphi panel of AYA patients. Support Care Cancer, 25(1), 119-126.

D’Agostino, N.M., & Edelstein, K. (2013). Psychosocial challenges and resource needs of young adult cancer survivors: Implications for program development. J Psychosoc Oncol, 31, 585-600.

Zebrack, B.J., Kent, E.E., Keegan, T.H., Kato, I., & Smith, A.W. (2014). Cancer sucks and other ponderings by adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. J Psychosoc Oncol, 32, 1-15.

A Message from Our Sponsor

As the founding sponsor of Real World Health Care, the HealthWell Foundation is committed to helping patients get the medical treatments they need, regardless of their ability to pay. We’ve seen first-hand how financial distress can impact the health and lives of individuals and families. Cancer patients with behavioral health conditions are particularly hard hit; according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), patients with some forms of cancer incur $8,000 more per year in health care costs than cancer patients without behavioral health conditions.

In keeping with our mission, we are now accepting applications for our Cancer-Related Behavioral Health (CRBH) Fund, specifically for treatment-related behavioral health issues in cancer. The Fund provides financial assistance to individuals with a diagnosis of cancer to help with cost-shares (deductibles, coinsurances and copayments) for covered services rendered by behavioral health providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical counselors, and licensed social workers).

We invite readers of Real World Health Care to learn more about our CBRH Fund and how you can support it by visiting www.HealthWellFoundation.org.