When you think of patients with cancer, you often think of middle aged or older adults, but a significant number of young adults are also affected. And they have unique concerns and needs that the Dana Farber Cancer Institute here in Boston is trying to address.
“I would go to doctors’ appointments and sit in the waiting room and everyone else was 20 to 30 to 40 years older than me,” says Carolyn Ridge of Natick. Carolyn was only 30 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She thought she had symptoms of a urinary tract infection, but her doctor discovered something no one had suspected. “I was called later that afternoon,” Carolyn recalls. “I was told that I had masses throughout my abdomen.”
Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. Not part of the life plan Carolyn had laid out for herself. “When I hit 30,” she remembers, “I had lots of plans to graduate from nursing school. I wanted to work as a nurse, get married, have children, have a house with a picket fence. I wanted all of those things that I had dreamed about when I was little.” Dreams that many people Carolyn’s age have.
Dr. Karen Fasciano, a clinical psychologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute says Carolyn is part of a unique group. “Many young adults are starting careers, starting new relationships, starting families,” Dr. Fasciano explains. “They don’t have as much financial security. They’re living away from their family for the first time, and having cancer really challenges all of these new things that are happening in their life.” But there really wasn’t any special support for patients aged 18 to 35 until four years ago, when the Dana Farber developed the Young Adult Program which provides social networking, educational sessions, conferences and counseling.
Dr. Fasciano is the Program Director and Carolyn’s therapist. “She was able to help me cope with loss of friends, and loss of independence, and loss of my fertility and all of these things which as a 30-year-old, I didn’t know how to deal with,” says Carolyn.
The program has helped her deal so much, that Carolyn now volunteers. “It’s important to me for people to meet other cancer patients like myself,” she says, “Who have been through the program and kind of have walked their journey.”
Carolyn’s journey isn’t over. Earlier this year, her cancer came back, but that hasn’t destroyed her dreams. “Those dreams are still very much ones that I hold onto and hope that they’ll come true,” she says.
The Young Adult Program has helped about three hundred patients so far and is the only one like it in New England. It is supported by philanthropic dollars, so if you would like to donate to help keep it running, go to www.dana-farber.org and then click on the “Make a Gift” tab.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.