Story and Photo by Era Sundar, Editor in Chief
Young cancer survivors are part of a growing population.
According to an American Cancer Society report published this year, “Mortality rates for childhood cancer have declined by 68 percent over the past four decades.”
However, a patient’s experience with cancer doesn’t end with remission.
“[Young adult] survivors face many challenges after treatment is over, including medical problems that may show up many years later,” Seton Shoal Creek Hospital and Community Care President and CEO Diana Resnik, said.
ACC graduate Heather Thomas is a childhood cancer survivor. At age 4, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia which affects the blood and bone marrow.
Now 24, Thomas is married, the recent owner of a house and a nurse at Seton. But she remembers when her life was not going as well.
“You could feel really good when you were on treatment and you could have days when you just didn’t feel like moving, ” she said.
When her treatment was complete, Thomas, then age 6, had a pill smashing party.
“It meant I didn’t have to take the dreaded pills anymore,” she said. “My mom and dad lined them up in the garage and gave me a hammer and away I went at them.”
Nurse Navigator Maria Marek works with the Seton Cancer Survivor Center to help young survivors like Thomas transition from pediatric oncologists to adult doctors, and deal with their unique needs.
“Some chemotherapy can cause low bone density, fertility issues and heart complications,” Marek said.
Thomas said she has not seen any residual effects of having chemotherapy at a young age, but carefully follows a health maintenance plan with her doctor.
The Seton Cancer Survivor Center is holding a special event April 6 for young adult survivors like Thomas. The event starts with lunch and will include a video booth so survivors can record their stories, sessions of laughing yoga and cooking demonstrations by chefs. The event is free of charge. For more information visit the Seton Cancer Survivor Center Facebook page.