Teen Cancer America Gift Launches Healthier Futures for More Teens and Young Adults

Jodi Mouratis
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients and survivors experience physical and mental health issues that are unique—not only during treatment but also long after the disease is cured.

To address the needs specific to AYAs, our hospital launched the Stanford Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer (SAYAC) Program in 2015. Since then it has grown to serve over 120 patients a year. But that’s only the beginning. This year, Teen Cancer America granted SAYAC $400,000 that will help propel the program even further so that it can serve more AYAs.

“[Care providers] don’t focus on my age group,” says David Llano, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 17 and treated at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. “Sometimes the journey can be long, and I never had that life-after-cancer picture. I want to give someone hope that they can beat cancer, that their life can become normal after.”

See how Teen Cancer America’s generosity will help Packard Children’s SAYAC Program to benefit even more young cancer patients and survivors.

Teenagers and young adults deal with a lot of change between the ages of 15 and 29. It could be getting through high school, moving across the country to go to college, starting a new job, or even having children. Imagine adding a cancer diagnosis.

“Cancer can really put a roadblock there,” says Alison Clayton, SAYAC Program coordinator. “It’s important to think about what people at this age are going through, so they can get back to those same things that everyone is experiencing and expects to experience.”

The goal of the SAYAC Program is to make cancer less of an issue for patients transitioning to the next big chapter of their lives. Patients receive mental health resources and psychosocial care geared toward their age group.

With Teen Cancer America’s grant, the SAYAC Program hired Clayton and can also hire a social worker focused on AYAs, who will join Pam Simon, MSN, CPNP, CPON, director of the program.

Simon founded the SAYAC Program and has dedicated her time and efforts to developing specialized services. Thanks to Teen Cancer America and its network of hospitals, she was able to meet and learn from others trying to create similar offerings.

“We were able to meet Teen Cancer America in the beginning,” Simon says. “Teen Cancer America opened up the possibilities of what our program at Stanford could look like.”

One key aspect of care has been oncology-fertility and sexual health programs for AYA patients. Over the years, Simon has conducted fertility counseling to ensure patients understand infertility risks associated with treatments and have opportunities to pursue fertility preservation services when interested.

“Pam was able to answer all of my questions about expediting the egg freezing process before beginning treatment and advocating with the oncologist at Stanford about the need for me to have treatment delayed just a bit so I could squeeze in this cycle of fertility preservation,” says Fiona Gutierrez-Dewar, who was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 22 at Stanford Hospital.

Patients like Gutierrez-Dewar and Llano, who serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council for the Young Adult Cancer Program, provide important feedback so that Simon and others can better understand their needs.

“Wherever there is a barrier, there is a solution,” says Michaela Liedtke, MD, who along with Gary Dahl, MD, serves as a SAYAC medical director. “They bring a tremendous amount of creativity and ideas to the table. That’s helped us to shape our program tremendously.”

Thank you, Teen Cancer America, for understanding the unique needs of AYAs with cancer and for supporting the hospitals and health care professionals who care for them!

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