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Young Adult Survivors

The challenges of friendship, romance, children and careers take on new complexity for young adults with cancer.


By Charlie Schmidt

Get Connected

Young survivors can choose from an ever-expanding menu of targeted support services

By Charlie Schmidt


On websites like Group Loop and Teens Living With Cancer, young survivors can post stories about their experiences and get advice about going back to school, reflecting on body image and managing friendships. A site called I’m Too Young for This helps users navigate the maze of available support services. The site’s home-page has links to online forums and chatrooms, coping literature, and guides to excursions, camps and retreats.

Retreats are popular with young survivors because the programs emphasize relaxation and fun as well as coping skills, says Albritton.

“We try to make everyone feel safe and comfortable and then we get out of the way—the real goal is [to] promote peer-to-peer support,” she explains. A number of groups, like Planet Cancer and the Dana-Farber program, offer retreats. Some are focused on outdoor adventure experiences. For instance, an organization called First Descents takes young adult patients and survivors on weeklong motivational kayak trips to places like Montana and Colorado.

Albritton points out that while retreats fill an important need, they’re of limited duration. Adolescent and young adult survivors also need ways to sustain positive energy over the long haul, she says, and opportunities to make constructive use of their time. The LifeLab in New York City represents a new approach toward fulfilling these objectives. Created by entertainment and intellectual property lawyer and cancer survivor Jodi Sax, the LifeLab sets up writing workshops for young adults. “We help them work through their feelings, and to develop skills if they’re interested in writing, film or art for a career,” she explains. “So we offer peer support, and because we publish a literary journal, we also offer exposure. Some of our participants have been able to sell their stories.”

Looking ahead, support opportunities for adolescents and young adults should become even more varied and interesting. The Lance Armstrong Foundation recently formed the LiveStrong Young Adult Alliance, a collaboration that brings together medical institutions, government agencies and nonprofit cancer advocacy groups from 21 states and four countries.

Randi Rosenberg, the immediate past president of the Young Survival Coalition, a national network of young breast cancer survivors based in New York City, is the alliance’s co-chair. “The landscape for young adults with cancer is really on the verge of a revolution,” she says. “And we’re watching it happen. ... Driven by the energy of a united and passionate group of advocates, medical professionals and government partners, young adults will benefit from more directed research, improved standards of care, larger communities of support and most importantly—improved survival outcomes.”

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