NYACAW: What Makes This Cancer Awareness Week So Important?

National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week is April 4-8, 2016.

This article was co-authored by Gregory Parent, program assistant, The Samfund. Greg’s role at The Samfund is to facilitate the programs that help our young adult survivor community. A graduate of the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, Greg has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work with a dual major in Religious Studies. Having previously worked supporting cancer survivors who have traveled away from home during their treatment, Greg is excited to continue helping a community of people he has grown to love.

Another month, another cancer awareness initiative—so why should we pay attention to this one? While the acronym for National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week, NYACAW, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, it needs to be taken seriously. Young adults (YAs, and for these purposes, defined as those between 15 to 39 years old) face specific, unique challenges that other age groups do not, and it’s

important to understand

how and why

they are different, especially when facing cancer, and regarding their financial health in particular:

  • Career stage. YAs whose lives are interrupted by cancer are placed “on hold,” professionally. They may not have any vacation, sick, or personal days to dedicate to treatment and feeling lousy because of treatment side effects. While they may not have benefits of their own, they are likely too old to be on their parents’ insurance plans.
  • Credit. Establishing (and keeping) good credit is critical at this stage of life. If the only solution for paying for living expenses during and/or after treatment is to max out a bunch of credit cards, YAs can say goodbye to good credit standing and all that entails. In addition to living expenses, many YAs can anticipate numerous medical bills and, on top of all of this, must continue to make their monthly student loan payments (because once treatment is over, so are deferments).
  • Family planning. The shock of a cancer diagnosis is one thing. Having to decide RIGHT NOW whether, and how, to attempt fertility presservation, adds a whole other layer. Most YAs haven't yet started their families (or have, but aren't done yet). Some might be single at the time of diagnosis. Either way, needing to make an immediate decision about a family in the future is overwhelming. Oh, and there's also the issue of cost...

NYACAW was established in 2002 by Selma Schimmel, the visionary founder of Vital Options International. In her honor, we continue to recognize this week as an opportunity to raise awareness; engage more individuals, groups, and communities in this important conversation; and change the perception of young adult cancer. While we have been involved in previous NYACAW efforts, this year we have much more to offer: with our recently published

, we’ve put our stake in the ground as a leading expert in financial toxicity and young adults

and NYACAW gives us a great opportunity to continue this conversation.

paper in Cancer Medicine

Though none of us individually can solve all of the issues stated above, the most readily available resource that we can all contribute to young adult cancer survivors is


: that they are not alone, that there is a community of thousands of their peers that they can turn to, and that their future can be as bright as it was before their diagnosis. All cancer survivors, especially YAs, need to know that with their diagnosis comes the opportunity (and some may say responsibility) to develop and use essential skills like self-advocacy, especially regarding finances.

As Heidi Adams, CEO of

, put it in an

a couple of years back, we can’t change a healthcare system that doesn’t recognize young adults as a distinct group, and all too often fails to meet their needs, if we don’t focus on them—not as an afterthought to the general population of cancer survivors, but as the


thought. Thanks to widely-read recent articles and news stories, more people are learning that the costs of cancer extend far beyond the obvious (medical bills, insurance premiums, and co-pays) to include job loss, damaged credit, and repossession of personal belongings

but up until recently no one was talking about how these issues affected young adults.

Critical Massarticle

So in the coming months, and during this week of Young Adult Cancer Awareness, here’s what you can do to be a positive force for change:

  • Listen to the ongoing conversations about the cost of cancer, advances in cancer treatment, new medical technologies, survival rates, and prevention, then figure out on whom those conversations focus. If it’s not the YA community, do what you can to contribute to the conversation and shed some light on how the issue at hand specifically impacts YAs.
  • Reach out to organizations to understand their mission and ways they help the young adult cancer community. Many organizations are working right now to: pay bills for YA survivors (The Samfund), help YAs navigate issues that come up at work while facing cancer (Cancer and Careers), educate YAs and the public on the intricacies of healthcare policy and insurance (Triage Cancer), and to organize a collective, unified movement to bring the issues faced by YAs into the focus of lawmakers in Washington so that changes can be made on a universal scale (Critical Mass). These organizations could not exist without various donations of time, money, and, of course, awareness.


Most importantly, if you know a YA dealing with cancer, be there for them. Listen, try to understand what they’re going through, and be as supportive in as many ways as you can. Provide them with rides to treatment, help with housekeeping tasks, and research some resources that might be available to them.