My Life Besides Cancer: Tips for AYA Patients

Friday, June 29, 2012 - 9:46am
Medical Social Worker, Department of Pediatrics

Kristen and Brandee, members of the AYA and Pediatric Psychosocial team at RPCI, will be sharing new insights and advice for the AYA population each month on Cancer Talk.

Cancer doesn’t define you; it’s just a piece of your story.

This is important for all cancer patients to remember, but particularly for those who are in the “Adolescents and young adult's" (AYA) age group, or  between 15 - 39 years old. A new member of this group is diagnosed with cancer every 8 minutes — that’s 72,000 patients each year. For these folks, cancer threatens newly found independence, career plans, relationships and overall self-confidence. These unique psychosocial concerns can cause isolation, imbalance and social disconnect. A life-threatening diagnosis is a hard pill to swallow, and when it hits just as your life is taking off, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and scared. However, staying connected to your life, your friends, and your social pursuits can be a powerful weapon on your journey to fight cancer.

The fear of being treated differently after diagnosis is an inevitable concern, but don’t alienate yourself. Face your peers with strength and dignity and remind them that you haven’t changed. Continue to participate in leisure activities; if you belong to a sports team, stay involved even in an alternate role. Invite friends and family to a counseling session. Let friends visit you in the hospital. Allow them to become comfortable with your new experiences and challenges. You will in turn become more comfortable with yourself and better equipped to handle questions about your disease. Here are a few clubs and support groups that can help reignite your social aspirations:

  • Camp Good Days and Special Times hosts a camping retreat for young adults who have been touched by cancer. This unique program allows you to bring a guest and provides a positive, social atmosphere.
  • Stupid Cancer has a motto: "get busy living!” This group organizes happy hours, bowling parties, movie nights and other events where young adult survivors can connect. It’s a national group with local chapters, including a recently-formed Buffalo chapter.

A strong piece of advice for young cancer patients is to share your story and listen to others share theirs. It’s amazing how camaraderie can restore hope, decrease anxiety, and induce a stronger sense of self. Here are a few more websites to help you connect with fellow survivors:

  • www.imermanangels.org - A one on one cancer support service that connects a person touched by cancer with someone who has fought and survived the same type of cancer.
  • www.carepages.com - Free patient blogs that connect family and friends with inspirational stories, tips and advice. 
  • www.caringbridge.org - An online space where you can connect, share and receive support. 

The AYA program at RPCI reaches far beyond your current treatment-related issues, and looks to the future with promise and hope. We are here to listen without judgment, offer our support, and address the issues specific to your needs. You are not alone.