Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer, often referred to as “AYAs,” are loosely defined as people ages 15-39 years old. People on the younger side of this range often get treatment tailored to children and people on the older side of this range often get treatment tailored to older individuals. The issue here is that AYAs have specific needs that children and older people with cancer don’t necessarily have.
There are 3 main coping strategies to remember when being socially supportive: Share. Listen. Support.
You can practice these coping strategies if you are an AYA or if you are in an AYA’s support network (either digital or face-to-face support groups and networks):
One of the main problems in the AYA community is the lack of support groups tailored specifically to their needs. Many AYAs have mentioned that they like to go to support groups, but they have a difficult time relating to older people in the group. The people in these groups are going through different experiences than AYA’s. This can make AYAs feel isolated and like they don’t have an outlet to share their story.
AYA’s have also said that the friends they had before the cancer diagnosis often become uncomfortable with the implications of cancer and struggle to be supportive. AYA’s should be encouraged to join an online community like Group Loop or MyLifeLine so they can be heard and talk to others with similar experiences. Both success stories and stories of hardship can be helpful to read about.
The more people that open up and share their experiences, the more hope the AYA and their supporters will have.
When an AYA is feeling out of control of their own life, you can be a supporter by listening. Don’t be too quick to offer advice. Sometimes AYA’s just want to be heard.
If you want to be a form of support for AYA’s, you can comment on blog posts they make on their online accounts and follow their progress. This will reassure your loved ones that there are people thinking about them and recognizing their concerns.
Another way to be a good listener is to make sure you aren’t being overly sympathetic. You should be cognizant of the fact that, yes, the AYA is going through an extremely difficult time. But, you should also listen and talk about other aspects of their life. This can be a stress-reducer since it provides a break from the nearly constant talk about their diagnosis. Don’t forget they are much more than just a cancer patient.
Once an AYA opens up about their story, it is now time to be supportive. After being a good listener, you can educate yourself further about the biological aspects of the specific cancer that the AYA you are supporting has. This makes it easier to have meaningful conversations about how the AYA is feeling, rather than the AYA having to take the time to make sure you understand the technical processes of their treatment.
Another way to be supportive is by asking the AYA directly what they need help with. Often times, people will gift things to cancer patients, when maybe they actually need financial support or tutoring if they are a student.
Furthermore, be sure to know the AYA’s goals. Do they want to finish school or return to work? What is their timeline for treatment? What do they want to accomplish? Knowing these things will help the AYA to keep thinking and moving forward and help them to realize that a cancer diagnosis does not have to define them.
You don’t have to be a doctor to have an impact. Social Support is a key factor in helping AYAs through tough times. You can become an advocate by joining these digital support networks provided for FREE by Cancer Support Community and its partners:
Group Loop: Specifically for teens with cancer and teens affected by cancer.
MyLifeLine: An easy forum where friends and family can see updates on treatment, send financial support, and learn more about types of cancer.