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.
Steph: “One of my biggest thank-you's goes to the nurses and staff and to Dr. Rob here at the clinic. They for sure are my second family. They welcome you with open arms and make sure that you are treated the best way possible. They jump through hoops and will do anything for any of their patients. I cannot thank them enough, they have treated me like family, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Wil: “Being able to receive treatment in an area with your peers is just a lot more comforting. They’re kind of in the same boat as you, they’re at the same point in their life. Being able to talk to other teens really helps.
Nathan: “While I was very wary about joining Teen Group, when I did I was surprised by how much I liked it. It has given me the opportunity to meet with kids my age who have had some of the same issues and experiences as me.”
Cora: “The cancer center has always been a safe and loving place where I have been able to find comfort even amidst my pain. But ever since the teen and young adult program was implemented, I've been able to find community and friends like I've never been able to before. Not only are my needs being better met, but the friendships I've been able to develop are amazing, and I no longer feel alone in my experiences. I know it would mean the world to me and the friends I've made in this community to have the space and time to continue this programing. It has truly had such a large and positive impact on my life.”
Dominic: “The Mercy office is the place that saved my life and has given me so much joy over the years. With the recent development of our monthly Teen Group my love for the office has only grown as it is one of the best things to look forward to every month. It has given me an opportunity to try to help those going through treatment and show them that it's going to be ok. It has given me an opportunity to express some thoughts on my treatment and given me perspective on how treatments may have changed over the years since I've been cured. The AYA program at Mercy, in my opinion, is one of the best programs offered at the office.
Drew: “The teen group is a great thing due to the fact that you get to know people like yourself and maybe find someone who is a good friend.”
Lori (Drew’s mom): “Drew never talked much about his diagnosis, he just knew it was something to get through without questioning why he got Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He knew he had the support of his close friends and family, but after treatment finished, his outlook on life and high school changed. Drew didn't really want to go to the AYA teen program, but we convinced him to give it a try. He told me the he was glad he did because he could relate to everyone there better than his classmates. AYA has been a blessing for Drew, he has grown and tried new things that he never would have if it wasn't for everyone involved in the AYA teen group.
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).