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Answers from Other Experts About Young Adults and Cancer

Q. I am 19 and my mother was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago. She has had an operation and been through chemotherapy treatment and is technically 'cancer free' now, however we have been told she has a very slim chance of living past 5 years. My mother has completely changed, and I don't know how to talk to her as she seems like a completely different person since chemo. Is this normal?

A.

Undergoing treatment for any type of cancer is an intense experience, not only on an emotional level, but spiritually and physically as well. Often, those that have completed cancer treatment face a new type of difficulty; they must now acknowledge that their life is forever changed. They must deal with a new reality as they shift focus from coping with treatment to adjusting to their “new normal”. I use the term “new normal” because whatever was ‘normal’ for your mother before her diagnosis no longer rings true to her.

It is possible that your mother seems “like a completely different person” since her treatment because she must deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity that can persist following the completion of treatment. Although she may be “cancer free”, she may feel that her life is limited by the five year prognosis which has made her feel vulnerable and afraid. Many emotional challenges arise after treatment because people have focused all of their time and energy on physically fighting their diagnosis; they have neglected the emotional aspects in the process.

Encouraging her to maintain healthy, supportive relationships with those most significant to her is a crucial part of the healing process. You have to ask yourself, “How has my mother changed and is there is different way I can try talking to her?” She might feel alone in her experience and need your support more now than ever before. Does she have emotional support or is she speaking to a therapist or counselor? Anxiety and depression are common in those who are going through or have completed treatment for cancer. It is important to recognize any red flags for these disorders in order to gain the necessary support.

It is also good to be aware of the different types of support available:

  • Professional support provides you with information, resources and counseling
  • Peer-to-peer support reduces your sense of isolation and helps you connect with others who share similar concerns (e.g., Cancer Hope Network)

To access these types of support, speak with an oncology social worker or join a post-treatment support group at CancerCare. A social worker can also help you identify local support services; contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE to speak to an oncology social worker for more information.

Q. Are there programs that can help me feel better about myself? I'm 29, recently finished chemo and radiation and am feeling blah. Anything I can join?

A.

Having cancer in your 20s or 30s can be an overwhelming experience, particularly once treatment is over. Adjusting to the “new normal” can be especially difficult. Connecting with others your age who have also faced cancer and can relate to those days of just feeling “blah,” can be very helpful in normalizing your experience.

There are several organizations that offer support services to help meet the needs of people coping with cancer in their 20s and 30s. These organizations can help you feel connected and secure in the idea that you are NOT alone!

The following organizations offer retreats and other camp experiences for young adults with cancer and post treatment survivors:

As a post-treatment survivor, you’ll find helpful information in our booklet, After Treatment Ends: Tools for the Adult Cancer Survivor. All of our post-treatment information and support services can be found on our website. You may also call CancerCare and speak with an oncology social worker who can provide you with support and search for additional resources.

Q. My 24-year-old son was recently diagnosed with cancer and I think it would be a good idea for him to join a support group. How do I convince him?

A.

Often times, when young adults are first diagnosed with cancer, they are busy with doctor’s appointments, trying to understand their treatment, and figuring out how all the new demands will fit into their active lives. A support group may not be something people think of initially, but rather an option they come back to when they are better adjusted to their new routine.

Being supportive to your son as he begins treatment may include helping him find the right support group, along with other resources. You can do research for him, provide him with specific group information, and encourage him to talk to the group leader directly about any questions and concerns.

If he is unable to make it to face-to-face support group, he might consider a CancerCare online support group. These groups are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and led by a professional oncology social worker.

As his mom and caregiver, it’s also important to seek support for yourself. We offer support services for caregivers, including an online support group. If your needs are met, you will undoubtedly be a better support to your son.

Q. I am 28 years old and it seems like I'm the only one my age with cancer. Is there anyone else like me out there?

A.

Having cancer in your 20s or 30s can make you feel lonely. Most of the people you probably see in treatment or sitting next to you at the doctor’s office are much older. But you are NOT alone!

Connecting with others your age who are also facing cancer – people who “get it” – can be very helpful as you cope with the many feelings that may come up. Other young adults can also share information on practical concerns such as managing side effects and navigating the health care system.

These organizations specialize in providing support and services to young adults with cancer: