Derailment: When a Young Adult Gets Cancer

 

Young adults face unique psychosocial concerns such as fertility preservation, body image, sexuality, education, insurance issues, employment reintegration and long term effects of treatment. Meet ten young adult survivors living in Southern California and Dr. Leonard Sender, Medical Director of CHOC Children’s Cancer Institute and the Director of the Young Adult Cancer Program at the University of California Irvine Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is also Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Adolescent & Young Adult Oncology. National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week is April 2-8, 2012.

Leonard S. Sender, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Adolescent & Young Adult Oncology

The extremeness of having cancer at that age, the derailment of a normal, young person’s trajectory toward being an adult… they’re at college, they’re finishing high school, they’ve just graduated from college, they may be newlywed.  They are not yet rooted in where they are, so when they get the diagnosis of cancer it can be a major derailment.

Young adults face unique psychosocial concerns such as:

  • Fertility preservation
  • Body image & sexuality
  • Education
  • Insurance issues
  • Employment reintegration
  • Long-term effects of treatment

Victoria Nguyen, Age 25, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor

I was scared beyond belief, you know.  I had just graduated college, UCI, and just got a job, you know, starting my life.  You know, this is the moment that we as young adults want and we’re waiting for, to start our life; finally.  And so, right when I felt like I was about to start my life and partake this adult journey that I’m, that everyone is looking forward to, I felt like my life just stopped.

Carey Moyer, Age 32, Breast Cancer Survivor

I looked over at my husband, we had only been married for about a year and a half and you just look over and you’re just in shock.  You feel like your story will never be the same, your life is never the same.

Natalie Schiavone, Age 35, Colon Cancer Survivor

It was five weeks before the wedding, I went in for a colonoscopy to get things checked out and I found out the very next day that the tumor was malignant.

Eric Galvez, Brain Cancer Survivor & Founder, mAssKickers.org

Well, I was just starting my career.  I worked for two years as a physical therapist in a hospital setting and then in an outpatient setting; so all my impairments now are all physical so obviously I can’t go back to my career.

Cindi Raissen, Age 27, Melanoma Survivor

I was 22 years old, just got back from an amazing trip in Hawaii.  I had just lost a bunch of weight during every day life.  Went and got off the treadmill, like scheduled same thing every day, felt a lump in my leg, something that was obviously not supposed to be there.

Son Vu, Age 27, Testicular Cancer Survivor

I was kind of lucky to just go to the hospital at the right time but by then it was stage-4.  I guess it had spread- it started in the testicle then spread to some lymph nodes, some sections of veins; it went to my left kidney, which they removed.  It went to my liver, some spots in my lungs and I think that’s… gall bladder also.

Renee Schimkus, Age 21, Neuroendocrine Tumor of Pancreas Survivor

I was just going to school, working a ton, you know, going out, doing all the young things, I still danced.  And now with this it’s like I, I’ve just had to make this my priority.

Yasmin Al-Armouti, Age 26, Synovial Sarcoma

I decided from the very beginning I wouldn’t take it as a tragedy or anything because I didn’t want to think it would lead to any sort of demise at all.

Jenee Areeckal, Age 41, Sarcoma (Age 15) & Ovarian Cancer (Age 38) Survivor

Ovarian cancer has different losses attached to the osteogenic sarcoma, the loss of a limb.  Even though they are two losses, with the loss of the limb compared to the ovarian cancer loss I think I was able to overcome so much even though I didn’t have a leg.  I mean, I was heavily involved in sports, I was skiing, I was doing all the normal things.

Danny Abrego, Age 32, Glioblastoma Survivor

I mean, I was really depressed; really, really depressed, you know.  And I was playing it off really well, you know because for the most part in front of everyone else I was really trying to be positive but inside by myself I was just, I was dying inside.

Carey Moyer, Age 32, Breast Cancer Survivor

So there was a lot of crying and I think your body is going and your mind is going through shock.  I still was going to work.  I went to work still for about a week.  And people come up and say, ‘oh hi, how are you doing?’ And you want to say, ‘horrible, I’m doing horrible.  I was just diagnosed with breast cancer.’

Yasmin Al-Armouti, Age 26, Synovial Sarcoma

I had my half an hour of crying at the beginning but that was it.  I had to roll my sleeves up and just accept that it’s part of my life right now until it’s finished.  So it’s just a challenge that I have to overcome.

Eric Galvez, Brain Cancer Survivor & Founder, mAssKickers.org

So it kind of left a huge gap in what I was going to do.  I mean, everything I had been working for was kind of swept away so I really had to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

Natalie Schiavone, Age 35, Colon Cancer Survivor

So I literally went from surgery to wedding to fertility preservation, having my port inserted, straight into chemo with no break.  And I gave myself my first fertility shot after the ceremony, before the reception on the day of my wedding. [Laughs]

Jenee Areeckal, Age 41, Sarcoma (Age 15) & Ovarian Cancer (Age 38) Survivor

I did everything that a normal, 2-legged person could do, so I was able to overcome that particular loss versus with the ovarian cancer.  You’re talking the loss of, you know, not being able to have children, having to go for a total hysterectomy, having to go into this new world of menopause when at 38 you don’t expect that; you expect that at 50, late 50’s or 60’s.  And you know, not having been able to have children and wanting children, this is something that naturally, that it was a loss that was on a much different level than the loss of my leg.

Cindi Raissen, Age 27, Melanoma Survivor

I had my first surgery I’d ever had and I woke up and my dad was, you know, by my bedside and said, ‘it’s cancer.’ And I thought okay, cool, we’ll move on.  I’ve had a few moles removed that were cancerous but weren’t so bad so I figured it was the same thing.  And he said, ‘no, it’s cancer.’

Carey Moyer, Age 32, Breast Cancer Survivor

You start to accept certain things and I think in my mind I had two different lists; I had a list of things I can accept now and things I can’t accept and I need some more time to adjust to.  So, I can accept that I have breast cancer and I’m only 31.  Things I can’t accept is that I might not be able to breast-feed ever.  So that went on the other list, like let’s not think about that.  I might not be able to carry the children, you know, all those different things.  I might get a reoccurrence, all that different stuff, that went on the other list.  And just what I could focus on right then went on the list like I can handle this, I can accept it, I’m going to get through this; and that’s kind of how I dealt with it.

Danny Abrego, Age 32, Glioblastoma Survivor

You know, I think that was my biggest fear is I didn’t want things to go bad and have my daughter not remember me.  You know, that was my biggest fear out of everything.  Like, I didn’t care if I died, I just want my daughter to remember me.

Victoria Nguyen, Age 25, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor

I wasn’t looking for this to happen, this was something that was very unexpected and I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to get the chance to experience everything that I wanted to do, and that was really hard.  And to be forced to make decisions that I didn’t want to make yet, you know.  If I wanted to have kids, you know, what I was going to do about that.  You know, could I even get married, could I start a family?  It was really hard because it forced me to make a lot of decisions that I’m not ready to make yet, that I hadn’t really thought about yet; and so, that was really hard.

Renee Schimkus, Age 21, Neuroendocrine Tumor of Pancreas Survivor

I’ve had to really shift my focus and my priorities but I definitely make sure it doesn’t rule my life because I have cancer, cancer doesn’t have me.

Son Vu, Age 27, Testicular Cancer Survivor

Everyone who is young kind of tends to think that they’re indestructible, so I mean, a one year check up you don’t even bother to think what is the consequence of not checking yourself, but I guess sometimes you learn the hard way.

Cindi Raissen, Age 27, Melanoma Survivor

You think because you’re young, you’re invincible.  That’s kind of my thinking but you’re not.

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