Young Adults Surviving Cancer at The Gathering Place

Who are the Young Adults Surviving Cancer (YAs) ?

Medically speaking, YAs are between the ages of 18 and 40 as this age range does not have the same survival rates as individuals diagnosed after age 40

About 70,000 young people (ages 15-39) are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States

Cancers hitting the AYA population (Adolescents and Young Adults) are far more AGGRESSIVE 

Improvements in survival for this population have not improved over the past 25 years

YA’s additionally suffer from “Late Effects”

o   Cancer treatments harm the body’s organs, tissues or bones and cause health problems later in life.  These health problems are called late effects;

o   Late effects occur months and even years after treatment has ended;

o   Late effects may include physical, mental and social emotional problems.

YA’s often suffer from second cancers.

o   Childhood and teen cancer survivors have an increased risk of a second cancer later in life;

o   Certain genetic patterns or syndromes may increase the risk of a second cancer;

o   AYAs who have been treated for cancer need regular screening tests to check for a second cancer

Millennials!  The YAs represent Millennials Surviving Cancer.

o   Think about everything you have read and learned about Millennials;

o   Now, add surviving cancer to what you know about reaching Millennials

The Gathering Place (TGP) started providing programs specifically for YAs 12 years ago and followed a traditional support group format, meeting monthly.  Five years ago, the first weekend retreat was offered and became an annual program for 12 to 16 young adults through 2016.

In our 2015-16 fiscal year,TGP began shifting the YA program model to reach a greater band width of Young Adults Surviving Cancer.  A focus group of YAs was held to understand their wishes and neeeds. YAs shared they wanted something different from the traditional support group model so the program changed to include a psycho-educational model (which provides monthly educational topics).  They were loud and clear that they wanted TGP to offer meetings on both sides of town; to continue the retreat; and they requested Social Events.  They additionally requested the opportunity to bring a friend, a buddy, a sister, brother, a spouse or partner and discussed how difficult it is to walk into a meeting on their own.  Since then, we have opened up our programs to include their support network.  

The wish for Social Events represents the fact that the cancer journey frequently causes isolation.  YAs might have to drop college classes or stop working. Fatigue due to their illness often prohibits them from maintaining social contacts. Financially, they may have to move home to live with parents.  They feel they lose ground socially and that their social skills atrophy.  YAs state that they need social opportunities to meet new friends who understand what they are going through (both physically but also emotionally e.g., the fear of recurrence); and also the opportunity to build new social muscles – practice the skills of even starting a conversation, etc.

In the last year, TGP began offering social events.  Although attendance fluctuates, we definitely reach more YAs through social events, providing the opportunity to feel “normal” for that evening.  Once they are connected to TGP, YAs become more likely to reach out for various forms of support: nutrition, strength building, YA support group, and support for their children.  It has been suggested by the TGP Program Committee that we consider taking the YA support group “on the road.” Specifically, this means holding the YA support group off-site as it may be tough for a YA to walk into a cancer center.  For the spring 2017 quarter, we  scheduled one YA support group meeting at the east side Winking Lizard in their private meeting room AKA “the Board Room”; and one YA support group meeting in the Rocky River Starbucks which has a private meeting room.  

In March 2017, we held a “Paint Night” at The Happy Dog Saloon in University Circle.  The response was truly overwhelming.  Thirty-six people attended representing 22 YAs and 14 support participants.  

This event brought in 13 new YAs who never before attended a program for young adults with cancer at TGP and of these 13 only four had been to TGP (3 for wigs, one for healing arts).

TGP staff work collaboratively with AYA staff in the area hospitals and referrals often come to TGP from these individuals. The YA program continues to evolve as it serves a very important need for these individuals at a pivotal time in their lives.

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