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Coping with Cancer

Young patients don’t need to face the disease alone

Some unique challenges come with a cancer diagnosis for patients in their 20s and 30s. Besides treatments and doctor examinations, these patients worry about an array of issues: Can I still go to college while I’m receiving treatment? Should I tell my employer about my illness? Will I still be able to have children?

Cancer can put a young patient’s life on hold, including college. However, if your college campus is nearby, it may be possible to continue taking classes part-time.

“Many colleges are very accommodating to cancer patients,” says Kathleen Hardy, oncology social worker at Karmanos. “It’s important to get support from your academic department. You may be allowed a longer period of time to complete a test. You might also consider reducing your course load or taking a semester off. We try to coordinate treatments to accommodate our patients’ schedules.”

As for the workplace, Hardy says you don’t have to tell everyone about your illness. But it’s important to talk with your immediate supervisor and human resources department, since you may need time off for treatment.

“Ask that your privacy is respected,” Hardy adds. “Workplaces can be tremendously supportive if you communicate your needs.”

Many cancer patients worry about maintaining their relationships and if they’ll be able to have children after treatment.

“We offer couples counseling, which oftentimes strengthens relationships,” Hardy says. “Through a lot of good communication, we can work through the complex issues couples face during cancer treatment. We also talk with patients up front about how radiation or chemotherapy will affect their fertility. We can refer them to resources that bank sperm or embryos.”

Support groups also help young patients feel more connected with peers facing similar problems. Karmanos’ “Young Adult Wellness Group” meets monthly to talk about everyday issues they encounter.

“Young patients don’t need to go through cancer treatment alone,” Hardy says. “Karmanos provides counseling and the additional support needed to work through challenges without feeling isolated.”

To learn more about the “Young Adult Wellness Group” or other support groups at Karmanos, please call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) or visit

Resources for Young Patients

Camp Mak-A-Dream
Offers free weekly programs at its camp in Gold Creek, Montana for children and young adults affected by cancer.

First Descents
Organizes free outdoor adventure camps for young adult cancer fighters and survivors.

I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation
Organizes online and offline support communities nationwide for young adult cancer patients.

The Planet Cancer
Provides online peer support and advocacy for young adults with cancer.

Survivorship University at Karmanos Cancer Center
Free lectures related to issues that cancer survivors face. Lectures are open to any cancer survivor, including current patients, past patients, caregivers, friends and family members.

© 2014 Karmanos Cancer Institute Pencil
The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center is accredited by The Joint Commission.
If members of the public have any quality-of-care or safety concerns, they may notify The Joint Commission at 630-792-5800.