Earlier this year, I attended and presented at the 2013 OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults. Founded in 2004 by Matthew Zachary, a pediatric brain cancer survivor, Stupid Cancer is a non-profit organization that empowers young adults affected by cancer through programs and services. The organization provides a support community for an underserved population.
When Stupid Cancer asked me if I wanted to be a part of this one-of-a-kind summit and present during one of the many workshops and breakout sessions, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn and hear first-hand from young people who want to have an active role in their own cancer care and treatment. I had the honor of presenting on the subject of Pain Management and Palliative Care with Lynn Adams, a nurse practitioner coordinator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
My message was simple and clear. Whether you have cancer as an adult in your 50s or 60s or are a young adult in your 20s or 30s with cancer, pain associated with cancer and cancer treatment is real. Each person's pain is different because each person is different. When patients tell me they are feeling pain as part of their cancer experience, my goals are to find out what is causing the pain and to determine the best way to alleviate or remove the pain so they can focus on their treatment and healing.
I learned that young adults are rarely considered when it comes to cancer treatment. Yet they account for 72,000 new diagnoses each year. That's one young adult being diagnosed every eight minutes. That number is seven times higher than all pediatric cancers combined.
I participated in several workshops and break-out sessions because I wanted to learn from the experiences these young adults were sharing. One of the sessions I attended was called "Just for Guys: No Holds Barred." There was a similar session for women, "Just for Gals: Nothing Is Taboo."
In the "Just For Guys" session, the men in the room shared openly about the challenges they have faced and are still facing with being diagnosed with cancer as young adults. They discussed the challenges of dating, working, remaining active, being intimate and more.
One of the guys in the group asked, "When do I tell someone I am interested in that I have cancer?" In the moment, I thought, there's no easy, right or wrong answer to that question. After a spirited discussion, one of the guys said, "You'll know when it's the right time to tell that person. And when you do, you'll know right away if that person is right for you." I was truly blown away at the level of openness and trust during that session.
It was encouraging seeing so many young survivors, caregivers, advocates and support groups gathered in one place to help move this effort forward. As more voices are heard, more people will begin to see that steps should be taken to care for and support young adults with cancer. We in the medical community have a responsibility to be open to the challenges of all our patients.