What Young Adult Cancer Survivors Are Saying
Most research does not focus on the young adult population and the challenges they face during and after cancer treatment; therefore, hearing directly from the YA cancer survivorship community on how lack of support from friendships impacts them is imperative. Here are some examples from CancerCare’s practice.
“I wish my friends could understand how difficult it is to make a decision on fertility treatments at 23 years old, instead of telling me to be okay, or to be happy I am able to preserve my fertility.”
“I felt so lonely. While all of my friends were out having a good time, enjoying their careers and good times, I had to sit in a hospital for 6 hours receiving chemotherapy. None of them would come with me to appointments or send me care packages. I didn’t expect my friends to react this way.”
“I felt really scared throughout treatment, but I also felt like I did not belong in my friend group. Most of my friends either thought I was going to die and did not know how to approach the topic or many would ignore it, stopped talking to me, and even pretended I did not exist.”
“I felt so alone throughout treatment, sometimes I would question if I did something wrong to my friends and peers. I felt so abandoned.”
“I wish the friends that I expected checked in on me more, called more, or even did things like buying me food or providing comfort throughout treatment. As a result, I am not trying to build new friendships, which can be really hard at 29.”
Ways to Support a Young Adult Cancer Patient
Ask young adult cancer survivors if they are comfortable sharing how they feel. Sometimes, a person has a hard time disclosing feelings or may not be ready to share them with you. When they do share their feelings, affirm that you are grateful for them sharing and being vulnerable.
Ask young adult cancer survivors to talk about the most difficult part of their experience. Do not make any assumptions. Cancer is a complex experience, and survivors may have a lot of feelings associated with the experience. These questions allow survivors to identify specific scenarios and feelings connected to those scenarios.
Listen to what their needs are and offer to help within your reach or refer them to resources.
Encourage young adults with cancer to join young adult-specific support groups and/or peer matching services. Being able to relate is a crucial part of the young adult cancer journey. The best way to achieve this is to connect survivors with other cancer survivors within their age group.
Encourage young adult cancer survivors to find ways to share their story through podcasts, art, music, poetry, social media forums, blogs, journaling, etc.
Reassure young adults with cancer that expressing how their experience impacted them is part of recovery from their traumatic experience, and is just as important as physically recovering from treatment.
Resources for Young Adults
Young adults should be reassured that they are not alone. Although programs may be limited, communities and organizations with programs that focus specifically on the young adult population are available.
Organizations that provide young adult-specific guidance and support services via online and/or telephone-based platforms include CancerCare, Stupid Cancer, Young Survival Coalition, The SamFund/Expect Miracles Foundation, First Descents, and Ulman Foundation.
Local treatment centers may have programs and activities. Connect with hospital social workers, patient navigators, or case managers to inquire about specific programming that may be available.
1. National Cancer Institute. Annual report to the nation 2022: overall cancer statistics. National Cancer Institute website. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://seer.cancer.gov/report_to_nation/statistics.html
2. Siembida EJ, Reeve BB, Zebrack BJ, Snyder MA, Salsman JM. Measuring health‐related quality of life in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors with the National Institutes of Health Patient‐Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System®: comparing adolescent, emerging adult, and young adult survivor perspectives. Psychooncology. 2021;30(3):303-311. doi: 10.1002/pon.5577
3. Commons ML, Armon C, Richards FA, et al. Multidomain study of adult development. In Commons ML, Sinnott JD, Richards FA, Armon C, eds. Adult Development, Vol. 1: Comparisons and Applications of Developmental Models. Praeger:1989;33-56.
4. Evans R, Mallet P, Bazillier C, Amiel P. Friendship and cancer. Rev Health Care. 2015;6(2):53-65. doi:10.7175/rhc.v6i2.1171