Coping With Emotions

Cancer in Your 20s: Surviving and Thriving

Cancer in your 20s doesn't have to completely ruin your social life. Keep your outings with friends small, short and sweet during treatment.

Your 20s are meant to be a decade of transition and independence, not major medical crises. If you have been diagnosed with cancer in your 20s, you’re stuck juggling treatment and procedures with more “typical” events for a twentysomething person, like dating and life after college. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend your 20s focused solely on your cancer diagnosis; with a support network of family and friends, you can do more than just survive your 20s — you can thrive, too.

Specific Challenges Will Creep Up

For most twentysomething adults, this decade is full of change and exploration. College graduation, dating, living with roommates and trying to save money are just a few major milestones you may tackle. Living with cancer in your 20s will add plenty of challenges and obstacles to your already busy life.

Your treatment side effects may make you more tired than usual, keeping you from a social calendar full of late nights. You may also need to steer clear from too much contact with large groups of people, especially during cold and flu season, to protect your immune system. If you need to travel to other cities for specialized consultation or procedures, you may end up out of town more often than your friends.

Medical insurance can also get tricky as you navigate getting on your own plan in your late 20s or when you secure full-time employment; finances can be tight thanks to high deductible costs and coverage rates. You may also find that beginning your professional career is challenging while juggling treatment schedules and side effects.

But You’ve Got This

When it comes to relationships, focus on shorter gatherings with smaller amounts of people. Not only will a drink and appetizer with a few friends be more meaningful than a late night at the bar with a large group, but your energy levels will be able to bounce back quicker. Your friends will become invaluable during your time with cancer. Ask for, and accept, help. Your pals are happy to rent a movie and lie low with you when you’re feeling especially sick. As for dating, take it as slowly or fast as you’d like and schedule your outings earlier to avoid being tired. You’ll figure out how much information to divulge when comfortable.

Financially speaking, be sure your medical expenses are as low as possible. Investigate multiple insurance options, including staying on your parents’ plan. Talk to your oncologist’s office and specialty pharmacy to see if there are any discounts or programs that can decrease the amount of money you spend on treatment, hospital stays or medications. You may also find it helpful, both financially and physically, to move briefly back in with your parents or other family members for a time to save money and recover. If you’re unable to return to your family’s home, try to find a few roommates to help offset living costs. Let them know about your situation and be honest with them when you need quiet or alone time, and what household responsibilities you can still uphold.

For your career, see if your job has any flexibility for you to work remotely a few times per week or to job-share with a peer. These approaches can give you a bit of leeway to work harder when you’re feeling well enough to do so. If a full-time job is simply too much for your situation, consider freelancing or piecing together part-time jobs to make money while still focusing on your health and recovery.

Everyone in their 20s is trying to navigate life as a grown-up; you’re just on a bit of a learning curve. Ask for help from friends, family and doctors to give yourself the best shot at health and happiness.

Figuring out your finances just adds stress to an already hectic time. UVA's financial coordinators can help you sort it all out.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress