Cancer is an unwelcome challenge at any stage of life. It is heartbreaking to witness a young child suffer with the trauma of this disease. It is scary for older adults to face a cancer diagnosis, when their bodies may be unable to withstand the rigours of treatment. At any time, cancer brings fear and chaos to the lives of everyone it comes into contact with and there is never an ideal moment for it to show up.
When a person in their late teens, twenties, or thirties is diagnosed with cancer, it is not more difficult for them than it is for anyone else, but it is different. The reason cancer is different for young adults is because life is different for young adults. Young adulthood is when people go from being dependent to independent. The beginning of young adulthood is marked by freedom, adventure and excitement. It is when you get your first apartment or buy your first home, when you choose where or if you want to go to school, and start investing in your career. It’s when a lot of people choose to travel and see the world, try new things, and meet new people. Young adulthood is the launching pad for the expedition of finding out who you are, what you want to do, and where you want life to take you. It’s when important relationships form, when hearts are broken and mended, when people choose to be single, or when couples commit, settle down, and have children.
Young adulthood is an exciting time filled with firsts and crucial moments, important catalysts and stepping stones. Some may even say that young adulthood is the prime of life.
Now, imagine being diagnosed with cancer as a young adult. All of that newfound independence, energy, passion, freedom, and excitement comes to a dramatic halt. Independence is replaced with dependence. Socializing with friends is replaced with rigid treatment schedules and isolation from peers who can’t relate. Finishing school or climbing the corporate ladder are no longer doable and the financial ramifications of falling so far behind the rest of the work force lasts for years. Committing to lifelong relationships is frightening and planning to conceive children may be an impossible feat if cancer treatment has jeopardized fertility. When young adults are diagnosed with cancer, they are forced to face the end of their lives just as their lives are beginning.
Navigating the medical system is different for young adults too. There is far less money, time, attention, and energy dedicated to young adult cancer research and support. Often times, young adults experience a delay in diagnosis because they are viewed as too young to be sick and too immature to properly communicate their symptoms. Since early detection is crucial in cancer care, these assumptions are problematic and have posed great risk to many young adult cancer patients and survivors across the country.
Research is showing us that the effects of young adult cancer last long after treatment ends. For people who are fortunate enough to eventually call themselves, “cancer free,” life doesn’t just go back to normal. There are physical, financial, emotional, and relational side effects like chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, PTSD, infertility, anxiety, depression, and the inability to return to work.
Being and feeling different, especially while ill, is a very isolating experience and that’s where Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) comes in. YACC’s retreats, conferences, and programs positively impact the lives of young adults who are dealing with the lonely struggles of being young and having cancer. Nothing thrives in isolation and it is YACC’s desire to see young adults with cancer connect to one another so that they can not only survive, but thrive.
As you know, Shave for the Brave is YACC’s biggest fundraiser and it propels YACC forward in its mission to help young adults who are living with, through, and beyond cancer. We couldn’t do what we do without YOU! Shave for the Brave means the world to so many survivors who have been able to live healthier and fuller lives through the connections they have made in the national young adult cancer community.
Cancer may be different for young adults but Shave for the Brave is making the biggest difference of all.