A Month of Cancer Awareness: Five Things You Should Know

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September was a busy month in the cancer world: Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, Childhood Cancers Awareness Month, Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month…there was A LOT of awareness in thirty days! Now, as we head into October, we have Breast Cancer Awareness Month on the horizon, and “Movember” happening soon after.

The SAMFund has given many grants to deserving young adult survivors who have been diagnosed with one (or more) of the above types of cancer, along with so many other forms of cancers over the past eleven years. With cancer awareness making so many headlines this month, we wanted to focus on a few things we’ve learned from our alums through the years. What would our young adult survivors want everyone to know about cancer? Well…it’s complicated.

1. Cancer isn’t free.

Not by a long shot! A study by Duke University researchers found that even with insurance, cancer patients pay an average $712 out-of-pocket for treatment -related expenses  – that’s an average of $8544 a year! For patients without insurance, the cost is exponentially higher, and the expenses don’t end when treatment ends. Follow-up care for those declared cancer-free can exceed $4000 a year.

Young adults diagnosed with cancer are often facing these financial challenges at a time when they are graduating from college, struggling to establish careers, and often lacking substantial savings. The financial impact cancer has on this population can be truly devastating, and can cause further health problems down the line. All told, one in four uninsured cancer patients will skip seeing their doctor because of cost. And as the medical bills start pouring in, and the money starts pouring out, quality of life suffers. Check out what some of our young adult survivors say about their financial realities of living as a young adult with cancer – we’re talking evictions, utilities being shut off, even difficulties paying for food. It’s an enormous burden to bear.

2. Having cancer as a young adult can be especially complicated.

In addition to the tremendous financial hurdles, young adults with cancer face other unique challenges. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can cause infertility in both men and women, and many young adult patients have to think about family-planning measures much earlier than they had anticipated. Embryo storage, sperm banking, and adoption are all costly, daunting prospects, especially for someone facing the monumental upheaval of a cancer diagnosis. It perhaps goes without saying, too, but family planning itself is an expensive undertaking.

In many cases, young adults are facing huge decisions about fertility and family planning while they are still trying to date and maintain social lives. We all know romance and sex are complicated enough on their own; having to discuss the physical and emotional realities of cancer with a new partner takes it to a whole other level.

And as these young adults are dealing with huge questions about fertility, dating, and relationships, they are often starting their careers at an extremely uncertain time in their lives. Job-hunting between doctor’s appointments, having to explain frequent absences to a new employer, or needing extended time off for treatment can certainly take its toll on a person. Doing all of this in a struggling economy doesn’t make things any easier.

Like we said, it’s complicated.

3. Young adult survival rates are stagnant.

Survival rates for cancer in pediatric and older patients have improved significantly over the past 30 years, but survival rates for young adults have not. Many doctors don’t consider cancer as a possibility in young adult patients, in part because they are typically “too young” for certain diagnoses and “too old” for others. (Obviously, this is not always the case.) This, together with a limited understanding of the specific biology of tumors in young adults, and the sense of invincibility shared by many young adults (come on, we’ve all been there), is a dangerous combination. Too often, young adults are diagnosed much too late. More research is needed to better understand how to treat young adults better and more effectively, so that survival rates for this population can follow the trend upward, which is tricky because…

4. National funding for cancer research is down.

Federal dollars earmarked for research into new, novel studies is down, which in turn has reduced the number of clinical trials available to cancer patients.  More researchers are leaving the field. This is especially problematic for young adults, who are already underrepresented in clinical trials.

Dr. Francis Collins, The Director of the National Institutes of Health has called 2013 the “darkest year” for agency funding ever.  The NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, and it cut existing grants by 10 percent and eliminated from consideration 700 viable research projects that would have otherwise been funded.

5. You can help!

The one thing that isn’t complicated about young adult cancer is that YOU can help! You alone may not be able to convince Congress to increase research funding, but you CAN help individual young adults on their road to recovery.

Cancer isn’t free, and it is messy, but The SAMFund is here to help young adults put their financial lives back together. By providing direct financial assistance and free online support and education through Webinars, The SAMFund helps young adults to eliminate medical debt, stay in their homes, or even start families.  All of this in turn reduces stress and anxiety, leading to a better quality of life.

But the financial recovery and support is just one piece of the puzzle. We are proud to be a part of Critical Mass, the Young Adult Cancer Alliance, which links young adults to many amazing organizations designed to meet the unique needs of young adults with cancer. If you know someone dealing with cancer at a young age, you can make a huge difference in their life just by sharing these resources with them.

Even by just knowing that these issues exist for young adults with cancer, you are helping. Cancer can be tremendously isolating, and by reaching out to those facing it – with resources, understanding, or time – you can and do help. Your awareness truly helps make cancer for young adults a little less complicated.



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