Seventy thousand American young adults are diagnosed with cancer each year. For many, it took them quite awhile to get an accurate diagnosis since the first doctor they saw pooh-poohed the idea that a young adult could even have cancer. Too often they were told it was a sports injury, or the flu, or a nerve problem, or a worry that was “in their head.” These diagnoses are all possible, even likely, many times, but in their case not at all true. And the delay in diagnosis can be life-threatening.
To add insult to injury, many young adults, when offered treatment do not hear about all the issues that should be considered – preserving fertility is a big one. But there are a host of other issues too: health insurance, late effects of treatment, the need for regular follow-up with knowledgeable doctors, and psychosocial support.
You would think the big cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society would be all over this. Some say they are getting there, but it’s taken them way too long.
Filling the gap as outspoken advocates for young adults who have been treated for cancer is an array of people who are coming together online. A shining example is 34-year-old Matthew Zachary of Brooklyn, New York. Zachary was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 21 in his senior year of college. He was a pianist and budding composer who dreamed of being the next John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith and winning an Academy Award for his movie scores. But brain cancer took away some of his dexterity and destroyed that dream of a Hollywood career. Zachary had an epiphany one day, however, when he read a government report of progress in fighting cancer for almost every age group except young adults. People like him were forgotten in the research and progress in cancer.
That led Zachary to become an evangelist for his age group and gave rise to “social networking” among people like him on his website www.stupidcancer.com and a weekly online radio show called “The Stupid Cancer Show”.
I admire Zachary for everything he has done and will support him in any way I can.