Young adults & adolescents living with cancer - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Young adults & adolescents living with cancer

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

More than 73,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 39 are being diagnosed with cancer.

These young men and women face the same challenges as any cancer patient. Maybe more, because of their age.

If you're a young adult, how do you tell someone you want to go on a date with, that you had cancer?

How do you deal with friends not wanting to talk to you?

What about the fact that if you're a young woman, you may never be able to have children?

These are just some of the issues they face.

27-year-old Sarah Gammons, a thyroid cancer survivor, recalls being diagnosed three-years-ago.

"You don't think about dying when you're 24-years-old. It's not something you're supposed to think about when you're 24-years-old," says Gammons. "It's put in front of you and you have to deal with it. It kind of changes your life forever. It took me a while to cope with it."

Gammons didn't realize the challenges that followed, not only with her treatment, but in her everyday life.

"Losing friends... I was in a relationship. That relationship ended right after I got diagnosed. After treatment, after my surgery ended. It was just really hard and difficult to go through."

Young cancer survivors like Gammons face issues that are unique.

"You're going through so many things in your life as a young adult. Forming your own identity, and becoming a person. I had to find my 'new normal', after cancer. It took me a while to get back to a place where I am now. Where I'm just finally back, and happy," says Gammons.

Dr. Kimberly Whalen, a youth oncologist with UAB and Children's of Alabama
says  more people from the ages of 15 to 39 are being diagnosed with cancer.

This group is called, A.Y.A. -- Adolescent and Young Adult oncology.

"It comes at a really difficult time," says Whalen. "If you're in your young 20s, and you're diagnosed with cancer, that's a time when you're starting to establish your independence. And a diagnosis of cancer can make that more difficult."

Whalen says there's a difference in maturity and life experiences with those in the A.Y.A. range
versus those who are older.

"Those who are older may have gone through more and have learned more coping skills. They can sometimes serve as mentors to those who are younger and who are going through it."

Gammons says starting relationships can be very difficult for young cancer survivors.

"It's hard. How do you tell somebody you're dating that 'I had cancer'. I have had people that I'll go on a date with and I'll tell them that I had cancer and they never call me again," says Gammons. "Or I'll have some people call me and they worry about it, they're so worried it's going to come back. They fixate on it."

Dr. Whalen says infertility is a reality for many young adults with cancer.

"For patients in their 20s and 30s, that's a huge part. Because they're at that point in their life when they're trying to start a family. That's a huge concern," says Whalen.

Now, Gammons is about to finish up medical school.

She wants to be a pediatrician. And to take her experience to help others

"No matter what I do, I want to work with survivors. I want to be part of the adolescent and young adult survivorship movement that's happening across the United States. That's what I want to focus on in residency and focus my career on afterwards."

UAB is hosting the first community wide conference for young cancer survivors, ages 15 to 39 in Birmingham.

Dr. Leonard Sender, the chairman of 'Stupid Cancer' -- which is the largest adolescent and young adult cancer survivor advocacy group will be the guest speaker.

The event is this Saturday.

Registration starts at 8:00 AM at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

There's still plenty of spaces available.

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