• Article
  • February 15, 2018

Caring for Young Adults and Teens with Cancer

Bridge the care gap for adolescents and young adults who face life-changing cancer diagnoses.

By Menisa Marshall

Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.
Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

For 20-year-old cancer patient Samantha Buchanan, a new cancer unit for teens and young adults has helped her feel at home at Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. After being diagnosed at age 19 with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer found more often in younger than older patients, Buchanan spent many nights at Norton Children's. She says being in a room without clowns on the walls helps people her age feel like "this is where we're supposed to be."

Teens and young adults with cancer often fall into a gap between the typical care model for children and for adults. Cancer specialists know that patients between ages 15 and 39—defined as AYA (adolescent and young adult) patients—have care needs that can go unmet.

Some of those needs are physical; others may be social, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Age-appropriate resources and support are critical when it comes to meeting these needs and taking on cancer. That's why Norton Children's dedicated a new space specially designed for AYA cancer patients.

The AYA unit is located within the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at the Norton Children's Cancer Institute and represents a $300,000 investment made possible through the support of several donors. The 2,000-square-foot space is separated from the larger cancer care unit by double doors. It includes patient rooms, quiet space and a lounge area for social interaction among patients and visitors.

Buchanan says the lounge is a great idea since high school and college-age patients often have groups of visitors. "I'd sometimes have six to seven friends at a time drop by to hang out, which is pretty hard to do in a small patient room," she says.

Joseph M. Flynn, D.O., MPH, executive director and physician-in-chief at the Norton Cancer Institute, credited an advisory committee of current and past patients for providing design input. Their efforts are reflected in the amenities, colors, furniture and decorations in the new space. "This reflects our commitment to care, not just for the body, but the person within," he says. "We're here to meet the needs of adolescents and young adults, and be with them every step of the way."

Menisa Marshall is on the public relations team at Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. 

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