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Tessa

Tessa Neilson

Year of Award: 2018 Award State: New South Wales Health And Medicine > Mental Health
Health And Medicine > Cancer And Oncology
To investigate the mental health support resources available to young adult cancer patients - USA
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I travelled to the United States of America to explore best practice models, treatment facilities, support services and programs that offer psychological support to young adults with cancer – in active treatment as well as beyond treatment into survivorship.  The young adult age group, as embraced by the majority of facilities in the USA, encompasses the ages of 15-39.  My intention was to learn as much as possible about how psychological wellbeing is supported and promoted for young adults with cancer in the US and gain inspiration for programming that could be developed in Australia. 

My definition of mental health support was broadened to include anything that promoted a sense of community, support and psychological wellbeing, extending beyond and inclusive of clinical mental health support. I was interested to see what could potentially be adapted for Australia, taking into account variables such as population differences and funding constraints. 

I visited major hospitals in New York, New Haven and Boston to learn about their young adult treatment programs and psychosocial support programs for patients and their caregivers, in active treatment as well as beyond.  I also met with staff from major non-profit organisations in the US that support wellbeing in young cancer patients.  I participated in psychosocial support programs including peer support and group programs, toured treatment spaces, and held meetings with numerous staff members from major institutions in the USA. I also attended the major young adult cancer conference – CancerCon – produced by Stupid Cancer, the leading young adult cancer non-profit organisation in the US and participated in four days of programming, keynote lectures and breakout sessions. 

The key finding from my Fellowship journey was the importance of providing a community to young people with cancer who experience profound isolation.  Finding a means to connect with other young adults who are frequently extremely isolated in the hospital setting amongst patients several decades older than them is the mission of the majority of young adult cancer support networks in the USA.  Providing a means for these young adults to connect – and thereby promote psychological wellbeing -  is the overriding conclusion and recommendation from my Fellowship journey. 

I hope to share my findings by speaking with peak bodies promoting cancer care in Australia, sharing as part of my professional role within the health system as a doctor and speaking at relevant conferences.  I would relish the opportunity to present my findings within local hospitals with the aim of adapting some of what I have learnt from the US to benefit the care of young adults with cancer in Australia.      


Keywords: Young adult cancer, mental health, support, community, isolation, oncology, psychosocial

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