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Building on Hope

Doctors are reaching out to teens and young adults with cancer.

The passing of Collierville High sophomore Trey Erwin last month struck a chord with many people across the Mid-South. The teen, who was just weeks shy of his 16th birthday, died of pancreatic cancer on July 15th after being diagnosed just months earlier. Family, friends, even strangers, wore Pray for Trey T-shirts around town in solidarity, and a Facebook page allowed people to connect. 

His story was told largely by his mother in a video taped by their church as well as a day-to-day diary she kept on a website called CaringBridge. His family effectively used these social media networks to discuss his fight, and what it meant spiritually to deal with a challenge so completely out of one’s control. The fact that Trey’s CaringBridge site received more than 750,000 visits says something powerful about their message.

Now, his mother says she’ll be launching her own blog to keep Trey’s legacy alive, and as a ministry that will explore other topics as well. According to a post she wrote on the Caring Bridge website, “The Holy Spirit is still doing work on earth in what Trey started, so I will continue to share.”

 

Caring for adolescents with cancer

One issue that needs to be emphasized is how teens and young adults from 15 to 30 are still the least likely to survive cancer. Unlike children’s cancers, which now have an 85 percent cure rate, older adolescents lag far behind.    

In fact, survival rates have neither incresased nor descreased since 1975. However, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is working to change that. The organization has partnered with the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LIVESTRONG to launch Focus Under Forty, an education curriculm for doctors, as well as a series of videos for young people and their families.

For those in the midst of college or just starting a career, the diagnosis of cancer can be devastating and isolating. Many young adults talk about trying to protect friends or family members from their illness. The objective of the video series is to help kids learn how to better cope with the issues they face. Each video addresses a different topic, including fertility, fear of recurrence and dying, medical expenses and health insurance, body changes, dating and sexuality, pain and swelling, and school and work. The video series, titled “Moving Forward: Young Adults with Cancer,” is on YouTube and cancer.net.

“This is a very isolating experience for people in this no-man’s land, where their needs aren’t cared for, or they haven’t been in the past,” says ASCO President Michael Link, MD, said to Memphis Medical News. Now, Link is optomistic that these efforts will offer hope to those who need it most. 

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