Resources to support the psychological wellbeing of young adult cancer patients now a priority in Australia

23 Aug 2019

Resources to support the psychological wellbeing of young adult cancer patients now a priority in Australia featured image

Tessa Neilson, Psychiatry Registrar at St George Hospital and 2018 Churchill Fellow recently returned from her Churchill Fellowship in the USA to investigate programs and resources that exist to support the psychological wellbeing of young adult cancer patients.

“The unique psychosocial needs for young adults, undergoing cancer treatment in their 20s and 30s, is becoming increasingly recognised internationally, particularly in the USA,” said Dr Neilson “we know from the research that this is a demographic who suffer from profound isolation in adult hospitals, and there is a whole generation of cancer patients in Australia who are missing out on key services to support their mental health in treatment and survivorship.”

Dr Neilson learnt about the importance of providing a community to these young people with cancer, to combat the isolation of having cancer as a young adult as frequently these patients are the youngest people in the hospital waiting room by thirty or forty years, and may not encounter another patient of the same age in their local hospital.

“The Churchill Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to attend the largest young adult cancer event in the world – CancerCon, run by the Young Adult Cancer Advocacy organisation Stupid Cancer,” said Dr Neilson.

This conference brought together over 600 young adult cancer survivors, health professionals, caregivers and advocates at a life-changing conference of age-specific talks, wellbeing workshops and most importantly social connection amongst peers who “get it because they already got it.”

Finding a means to connect with other young adults is the mission of the majority of young adult cancer support networks in the USA.

“This can be done, for example, through a dedicated Young Adult Cancer non-profit (“Stupid Cancer”) that provides digital and physical meet-ups via hospitals with dedicated spaces for young adult patients in treatment centres to mix and meet, as well as hospital programs with age-specific support groups, to foster a sense of community with age-appropriate topics addressing common survivorship concerns amongst peers of the same life stage,” said Dr Neilson.

“My Churchill Fellowship was a life-changing experience that enabled me to dive deep into a cause that is very close to my heart, and learn from some of the most highly regarded cancer institutions and organisations in the world,” added Dr Neilson.

At CancerCon in Denver, Colorado - A performance of the Eulogy of Toby Peach by young adult Hodkgins Lymphoma survivor Toby Peach during the closing ceremony
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