An Awkward Phase: Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer

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By Lindsey Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

AYA.jpgPaola Hasbun was 16 when she was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor called pineoblastoma. A sophomore at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, she wanted to keep up with her academics, even when treatment led her away from home and to MD Anderson in Houston.

Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients, like Hasbun, can find themselves in a cancer conundrum when diagnosed -- out of place in pediatric clinics, but without targeted resources in adult hospitals, where the average patient is 65.

More than 70,000 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States--one every eight minutes.

Celebrate this week and everyday
This week, MD Anderson is celebrating National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week®, which raises awareness about the important cancer-related issues unique to AYA patients and survivors.

Hasbun says she "celebrates every day" that she is a survivor.

Sponsored by Vital Options International, one of the first organizations for young adults with cancer, National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week® is celebrated in communities across the country.

MD Anderson is hosting activities throughout the week for AYA cancer patients and survivors and encourages others to find ways to celebrate and raise awareness of the AYA cancer movement.

Treatment and support to move on
At MD Anderson, AYA patients receive specialized treatments and services through the Children's Cancer Hospital's Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program, which serves to meet the specific medical and psychosocial needs of AYA patients.

Medical and psychosocial concerns that AYA patients face include:

  • Fertility
  • Body image
  • Cognitive function
  • Education
  • Careers
  • Long-term effects
  • Social life
While undergoing treatment, which included chemotherapy, proton radiation and three invasive brain surgeries, Hasbun stayed at the Children's Cancer Hospital. At the hospital, she was able to complete her sophomore and junior years of high school without interruption through the virtual school program. She finished on track with her peers and with straight A's.

Now 19, she is working and preparing to attend Texas A&M University at Galveston in the fall of 2011. With support from the AYA Program, Hasbun is moving on with her life and from cancer.

A unique perspective
As an AYA cancer survivor, Hasbun has a unique perspective on the needs of AYA patients. She joined the AYA Advisory Council six months ago to be an advocate for them.

The council is comprised of 12 AYA patients and 14 MD Anderson staff members who meet monthly and address ways to improve services and care for this group.

Having dealt with memory problems due to her treatment, Hasbun has provided insight and recommendations on how the AYA Program can help support memory training for patients through games and competitions.

Connection offers reassurance
National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week® also provides an opportunity for AYA patients and survivors to connect with their peers. Peer support is crucial for anyone in this age group, but particularly for those with cancer.

"AYA patients are establishing their own identities during this time, and peer and romantic relationships play a major role in that process," Anna Franklin, M.D., assistant professor at the Children's Cancer Hospital and medical director of the AYA Program, says.

For patients, survivors, caregivers, family and friends in their 20s and 30s, Anderson Network's Cancer180 organizes social outings and events in the Houston area.

Call to action

To learn more about how you can support the AYA initiative or to participate in National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week® events, contact Marisa Mir, program coordinator in Volunteer Services - Anderson network at 713-745-9206.

Interested in connecting with other young adults affected by cancer after this week's events? Become a fan of Young Cancer Connection on Facebook and find out about upcoming events.

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