AYA Program

The Cardinals Kids Cancer Center at Mercy has an Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) division for teens and young adults. 

“Adolescent and young adult patients diagnosed with cancer face a unique struggle as they are forced to confront their own mortality at a time when their peers are discovering independence and feeling invincible,” said Robin Hanson, MD, PhD, Mercy Clinic pediatric hematologist-oncologist.

Many cancer diagnoses, such as leukemia and lymphoma, occur in very similar ways in children, adolescents and adults.  In order to better treat these young adult patients, our center has developed a program specifically for their age group.  In many cases the treatment regimens developed by pediatric oncologists have been proven superior both for long-term survival and quality of life.  In addition, there are important and unique needs for this age group that are best addressed by an AYA program.

Learn more about our Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program by watching this video.

Meet Our Staff

Robin Hanson, MD, PhD, leads the AYA Oncology program at Mercy.  He has a long-standing interest in young adult cancer care.  He is supported by the pediatric oncology team, including Robert Bergamini, MD, and Kavitha Kosuri, DO, a medical oncologist with a special interest in holistic cancer care for young adult patients. 

Laura Hanks, LCSW, is a clinical social worker and patient advocate who assists patients and families in finding support through every aspect of their cancer journey.

The following providers are generously supported by Friends of Kids With Cancer:

Kurt Soell, PhD, is a psychotherapist and counselor who has worked with young adult cancer patients for over 15 years.

Jim Russell, PhD,  is a neuropsychologist and counselor who has over two decades experience providing cognitive testing, counseling, and school and job support and intervention for young adult cancer patients.

Natasha Westrich-Wood is an art therapist who provides a safe outlet for expression of the thoughts and feelings of many of our cancer patients and their siblings.

Tom Mulvihill is an educational specialist and tutor who has more than 15 years of experience assisting students who require extra school support during their cancer treatment.

Our AYA Patients

If you click on the picture, you can scroll through several pictures of our patients. 

Coping and Support

AYA cancer patients have unique challenges, needs, and concerns. The AYA oncology program is dedicated to addressing all of these. 

"We are able to support our young adult patients and their family members in ways that an older adult cancer patient wouldn't receive," said Dr. Hanson. "For example, many of our teen and young adult patients receive iPads from Friends of Kids with Cancer, a charity that supports our cancer program. In addition, they receive psychosocial support in a 'young adult' setting.  They may receive therapy and counseling from a PhD psychologist at no personal cost, have access to movies and video game consoles while in the hospital for week-long chemotherapy treatments, get to meet Cardinals players and receive tickets to sporting events. This type of support doesn't exist in the adult world.  Plus, you add in the compassion displayed by the nurses and other staff, and you begin to understand why this is a better setting for young adult and teen patients."

 

Coping and support services include:

  • A clinic space dedicated to the needs and interests of the AYA patient. This includes a game room with foosball, air hockey, video games and Dance Dance Revolution; various spaces with desks, tables and computers for board games, internet surfing, reading or homework; and private, secluded cubbies with beds and personal televisions.  Chemotherapy and supportive treatments can be administered in any of these locations, and healing and recovery occur in all of them.
  • Various emotional, educational, financial and career counseling services are available through the AYA oncology program and the David C. Pratt Cancer Center and are generally free of charge to our patients and their families.
  • Financial assistance is available to assist with a variety of needs beyond just the medical costs of cancer care.  Through the generous assistance of the Mercy Health Foundation, eligible patients may receive various types of support to help cover basic costs of living.
  • An array of patient, parent and sibling support groups are available throughout the year.  Support also often occurs through unscheduled and unstructured encounters with other patients and families in the open clinic facility.
  • Off-site patient and family activities are regularly scheduled through Mercy’s Young Adult Cancer Survivor (YACS) program and Friends of Kids With Cancer.

 

Research and Clinical Trials

Improvements in cancer survival for AYA patients have lagged behind those for childhood cancer as well as for cancer in older adults.  Plus, the AYA population has the lowest enrollment rate in clinical trials. The biology of cancer and cancer patients is often different in the AYA age range. Future success in the care of teenagers and young adults requires improved therapies and increased understanding. For this reason, the AYA oncology program at Mercy is committed to providing access to clinical trial enrollment.

Our center is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), an organization of 200 of the top pediatric cancer centers around the world.  In addition, the AYA oncology program participates in clinical trials through other research groups including the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG), and the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG).

AYA Cancer Resources