Receiving a diagnosis of cancer between the ages of 18 and 45 is not what most people imagine happening during these decades of one’s life. Although cancer is rarer in these age groups, it happens with a degree of regularity.
While 18 and 45 are worlds apart in age, the range in between defines you as a young adult with cancer. As such you have unique needs medically, emotionally, sexually, vocationally, and socially. Your developmental stage in life is a big factor and as such your individual needs must be taken into consideration.
For most young people in this age range there is a great degree of shock and disbelief when they first hear the words cancer. It is usually followed by the thought, “I’m too young for this.” While we might all agree with this, the reality is still operational and the disease must be dealt with, and your individual and unique needs are important.
As a young adult the disruption can be significant, treatments are sometimes quite intense, possibly requiring hospitalizations. Most young adults have little experience with the medical environment other than seeing their primary care doctor for symptoms of colds or flu or sports injuries. Many young adults do not have regular doctors or even see a physician with any regularity. The less familiar you are with the medical world, the more foreign the experience will be. A new language needs to be learned about cancer, medicine, specialists such as medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, biopsy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies.
If you are in this age range you are likely highly connected to social media, and the Internet is just a few clicks away on your smartphone, which makes it easier to get access to information quickly by simply typing in the diagnosis. Unfortunately, this can be overwhelming as 100’s of cancer websites pop up and statistics and treatments are discussed, possibly in bodily anatomy and function that might not have been part of your vocabulary.
This is a time when some guidance and assistance is important. At UCLA we have a team of individuals familiar with cancer in young adults and some of the common issues and needs. We highly recommend that you arrange for an appointment to be seen in the Simms/Mann –UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology to help you get your bearings and to use us to help you figure out what might be most helpful to you.
The Simms/Mann Center team can help you understand the path that you are on and help you manage the roller coaster of emotions likely to cycle as you begin to unravel the steps toward diagnosis and treatment.
As you progress through these phases important issues are likely to come up related to:
- Distress, anger, upset, sadness about this event in your life
- Having to address fertility issues long before you imagined having to think about these things
- Concerns about managing work/school and treatment schedules
- Management of parental guidance and the change in one’s independence
- The impact of cancer on sexuality, relationships, and dating
- Managing your friends’ reactions
- Not having a peer group of people going through similar experiences
- Using the Internet wisely and not getting overwhelmed by the information that you gather
- Developing a good working relationship with your medical team and making sure they understand your needs
Some of the services that will be available to you here at the Simms/Mann Center include:
- Individual, couples, and family support to assist you in understanding and mapping your cancer journey and your individual needs
- Young Adult group to meet and connect with others who are also in your age range and managing treatment and/or survivorship issues. It is a safe place to talk about what is on your mind with others who understand
- Information and support about normative impact of cancer treatment – cognitive, emotional, familial, and strategies to cope
- Individual support to learn appropriate mind/body strategies for dealing with the anxiety, treatment, and medical procedures
- Participating in a group to learn mindfulness techniques to be in the present, reduce anxiety, and manage more effectively on a daily basis
- Consultation with an inter-faith Chaplain to address spiritual questions that may arise or other needs related to meaning
- Medication to help manage anxiety, sleep problems, depression, or overall level of distress from a psychiatrist with special training in this field and cancer
- Referral to specific organizations and resources that connect young people with cancer to others
- For young adults with children, assistance with knowing the best way to manage information for the developmental age of your child, how to share a diagnosis, when to share other information and what words to use.
- Adolescent and Young Adults (AYA) and Cancer: Treatment and Survivorship
- Young Adults with Cancer: An Overview
- Stupid Cancer!
National Cancer Advocacy, support and research group for young adults (18-39) with cancer.