Coping With Emotions

Cancer in Young Adults: How to Make Life a Little Easier

Cancer is a hard thing to deal with at any age, but for younger people, the physical changes and emotional reactions can be especially difficult. However, there are a number of ways patients can improve their quality of life, including being open about concerns with your care team.

Have you noticed more news stories, blogs, movies and TV shows dealing with the hardships of cancer in young adults lately? That’s because cancer occurs in more than 60,000 Americans aged 20 to 39 yearly, according to the American Cancer Society. Dealing with cancer as a young adult can be especially difficult because you’re likely without emotional and financial parental support, plus, you are totally immersed in figuring out life on your own — at work, in college and in new relationships.

Here’s how you can make things easier.

Get Help From Your Family

Most young adults who can’t work during cancer treatment do need help and often move back home. Even if you think you’re not on good terms, or that your family can’t afford to assist, you’d be surprised at the much-needed support they can give you. Even Kris Carr, filmmaker of Crazy, Sexy Cancer, who was diagnosed with stage 4 incurable liver cancer at the age of 31, needed her parents’ help with the barrage of doctor appointments, information sessions and far-away specialist visits. If you really can’t go home again, you can reach out to the Stupid Cancer website for resources.

Find Something New to Do

On her New York Times Well blog column, Life Interrupted: The 100 Day Project, Suleika Jaouad, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 22, speaks to how boring it is to be young and sick — how everything you had to do is suddenly taken away from you. “What could I do with my life from a hospital bed?” she asked herself. This led to the creation of her blog. If you can’t work, try something new such as an online art, film or a writer’s workshop, journaling or even video-blogging advice for other young adults with cancer.

Keep a Clean Record at Work and School

If cancer treatment makes your job impossible, notify your boss immediately to see if a part-time schedule or a leave of absence allows you to keep your job. In the ABC Family TV show Chasing Life, 24-year-old April Carver lands a journalism internship when she gets the news that she has leukemia. Once she finally tells her boss, she finds she can work as a freelancer. If you’re in college, meet with your adviser immediately with a letter from your doctor so your school can officially withdraw you from classes (without grades) to protect your GPA and keep your registration active.

Find People You Can Relate to

In the hit movie adapted from John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, two young adults with cancer, Hazel and Augustus, meet at a support group that Hazel’s mother practically drags her to — but it ends up being the best medicine for both to find each other. Making new friends in an online or local support group can be very rewarding, and become a source for advice and encouragement. Keep in touch with your “pre-cancer” friends as much as you feel like, and don’t shy away from dating if you feel well enough and your doctor gives you the OK.

Think About What You’ll Do Next

According to The National Cancer Institute, leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer (germ cell tumors) and thyroid cancer are the most common types of cancer in young adults aged 15 to 24. With the exception of leukemia, the American Cancer Society cites 5-year survival rates between 90 and 100 percent for these cancers. Eventually, treatment will end, and you can make plans for what’s next.

UVA Cancer Center offers social workers, support groups and more to help you on your journey.

Naomi Mannino
Naomi Mannino