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.
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 Hyunah Ahn, MD, 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.
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 are unique, appropriate and essential for this age group," said Dr. Hanson. "For example, many patients are finishing high school, are in college, or have recently entered the workforce when they are diagnosed with cancer. When their treatment ends, there may be physical, emotional, or cognitive changes that place them on a different life trajectory. We have counselors and a Life Coach who are available to help them successfully navigate this new path. Teen and young adult patients may 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 can 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:
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).