Addressing the Unique Challenges of AYA Survivors

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Cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or race. However, being diagnosed with cancer as a teenager or young adult can be especially challenging. Physical therapist & cancer survivor, Scott Capozza, understands this struggle firsthand. 

While Scott initially did not want the “label” of cancer survivor, he has dedicated his career to serving oncology patients, especially the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) patient population.  

The AYA patient population experiences unique issues compared to our older patients.  However, these issues are frequently overlooked & underserved, leading to potentially lifelong challenges.

Adolescent & Young Adult typically refers to patients 18-39 years old.

Scott recommends break this wide age range down into these three categories:

  • Emerging adulthood (18-25 years old)
    • These patients may be in school at this time.  Do they need extra accommodations to stay on track with coursework?  Do they have to withdraw altogether?  How do they navigate sharing their diagnosis with the school, with their friends, with their families?
    • As Scott notes, these patients aren’t really kids anymore, they’re striving towards their independence, but might still be living at home or on their parents’ insurance.
  • Early adulthood (26-30ish years old)
    • Out on your own, typically done with school, have started working
    • Student loans hit!
  • Older AYA (30ish to 39 years old)

This helps you focus on the common transitions these age groups experience & have unique sets of needs around these categories.

AYA cancers affect survivors at extremely important transitional periods of their life.

Take one of my patients for example: 

A 31 year old woman diagnosed with breast cancer, mom of 2, recently engaged, in the process of buying a house, her mother just passed from cancer.

Cancer is just one aspect of her life.  But cancer also interrupted & disrupted every facet of her life.  

It’s not that older adults don’t also have challenges associated with their cancer diagnosis.

Older adults will have challenges associated with their cancer diagnosis.  But consider this important distinction:

Many of our older patients have been working for several decades, own a home, are in a committed relationship, & have established social support networks.  

On the other hand, AYA patients may be in school or just starting a job, meaning they don’t yet have financial security or independence.  They may still be living at home, at school, or renting.  Some AYA patients may even have to move back in with family during their cancer treatment, almost backpedaling on their newfound independence.  

Consider some invisible costs these patients may be dealing with:
  • Gas money to get to/from appointments
  • Parking for appointments
  • Childcare costs during appointments
  • Food costs while at the hospital/appointments
  • Fertility preservation ($$$!)
  • Draining what little savings these patients may have
  • Time away from work
    • Time away for appointments
    • Inability to fully work physically (lifting restrictions after surgery, functional limitations, etc.)
    • Breaks from working to focus on health – will this look bad on their resume?
  • Lost earnings
  • Decreased ability to contribute to savings (see Financial Feminist Podcast for more great info on long-term savings & financial toxicity considerations)

Scott also mentioned this article highlighting work by Dr. Lauren Ghazal – “Crowdfunding Can Help Pay for Cancer Care, But Takes Emotional Toll.”

Resources Scott mentioned:

Check out Scott’s AYA courses on Medbridge!

Scott has THREE amazing new courses out on Medbridge that you don’t want to miss:

  • Adolescents & Young Adults (AYAs) Living with Cancer: What to Know
  • Rehabilitation Management of Adolescents & Young Adults With Cancer
  • Late Effects of Childhood Cancers

Save up to $150 on your Medbridge subscription with my affiliate code THEONCOPT! 

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

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