As World Cancer Day 2017 approaches, I am grateful to be able to continue to call myself a survivor. So much progress has been made that makes it possible for me to be the healthy, happy young adult I am now. However, World Cancer Day also reminds me how uneven that progress has been. Scientific breakthroughs have led to better and better cancer treatments that gave back life to childhood, teenage, and young adult cancer survivors, like myself. Yet, that progress is hampered by the fact that every child, teenager and young adult successfully brought through treatment must also successfully transition back to normal life after treatment ends. I feel fortunate to have been provided many different forms of support from many different sources that have helped me with my own transitions, but none of that support was standard care. I personally know so many other survivors who are my age but struggling to build a life for themselves due to challenges they face related to the impact of their treatment. The transition back to normal life, no matter the age group, can be incredibly difficult without proper support and guidance.
For children, it means going back to school and academically keeping up with their grade level, building up the energy to play outside, and learning to be with their friends again. For teens, it means re-learning how to participate in a classroom, figuring out how to relate to your peers, and understanding how to manage your long-term health in ways no one else your age has had to do. And for young adults, it means finding footing in a world that continues moving forward at lightning speed, regardless of how long your life was on hold. Finishing education, managing financial challenges, and maintaining career trajectories must somehow all be crammed in as soon as possible once treatment ends.
My hope for 2017 is to see progress for young survivors. Better resources and support programs are crucial to help with the significant transitions they face. These young survivors should not have to jump into the void of post-treatment life without any guidance. It is so important to dedicate more time and effort to making sure survivors are followed in survivorship programs that ensure their long-term health is properly monitored, providing access to educational and financial resources to enable proper planning for the future, and guiding them through building the confidence and skills they need to manage their own health as they transition from pediatric to adult care.
In 2017, we owe it to the children, teenagers, and young adults that have successfully beaten their cancers to help them successfully live out the rest of their lives.
Clarissa Schilstra is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the first time when she was two and a half years old. She went through two and a half years of chemotherapy and survived. She led a happy and healthy life until June of 2007, shortly before her 13th birthday, when her cancer relapsed. She then went through another two and a half years of chemotherapy, this time accompanied by radiation. She is now twenty-two years old and a graduate of Duke University. Her passion is helping others cope with the ups and downs of life during and after cancer treatment. She currently works full-time as a research assistant in a pediatric health psychology lab at the University of Miami, but it is her goal to become a pediatric clinical psychologist and she would like to help improve the psychological care available to adolescents and young adults who have serious illnesses. As CKN Section Editor, Clarissa hopes to provide advice based on her personal experience and to share relevant news and research to help young adult patients and survivors find new ways to live their best life in spite of the shadow of cancer. You can find Clarissa’s book, Riding the Cancer Coaster: Survival Guide for Teens and Young Adults, on Amazon.com. To learn more about Clarissa and her book, or to find AYA cancer support resources, visit her website and blog at www.teen-cancer.com.