Focusing on Bright Futures: Our Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program Is Life-Changing
“It’s a life-changing event when you’re diagnosed with cancer, especially for teens,” said Jeffrey Hord, MD, director of Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Akron Children’s Hospital’s Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) program provides medical, emotional and social support for cancer patients age 12-25, with about 40 new patients entering the program annually.
The program isn’t just about the actual treatment for the diagnoses. It assists patients through all stages of their healthcare journey, including treatment, remission and survivorship. We offer everything from fertility preservation and access to the latest clinical trials (including phase 1 and targeted therapies) to academic and emotional support.
“The teen support group includes a vibrant group of patients; they talk back and forth about issues only they experience and understand,” Dr. Hord said. “It gives them the opportunity to see others who have been through this journey and survived.”
Group support activities also go beyond deep, heavy conversations. From a Prom to Remember at the Ritz-Carlton, to annual Cedar Point outings, to volunteering as counselors at the hospital’s summer camp, patients in the AYA program prove that cancer won’t stop them from living normal lives.
On the research side, the AYA program has a robust staff whose activities center around different protocols from the Children’s Oncology Group – the largest network of pediatric cancer centers in the world. The program has access to clinical trials for most tumors that affect infants, children, teens and young adults.
Whether it’s about understanding the disease or treatment or the supportive care, each component is important to the AYA program. Why? It prevents fragmentation of care for these patients.
“Our goal is to bring research, treatment and support together under one umbrella. Every adolescent who walks through our door should have the opportunity to access these activities so there’s no segment of care that’s being missed.”
The next steps for the AYA program include spreading the word about the program and having consistent support from staff, social workers and medical professionals.
“We need to get the message out to the community that this is the place where teens and young adults should be treated for cancer and will have the best outcome,” Dr. Hord said.
Research has shown that teens and young adults with certain kinds of cancer have much better results when they’re treated at a pediatric hospital like Akron Children’s Hospital. Nearly 40 percent of our patients are adolescents and young adults, and the care we provide goes beyond helping them beat cancer.
Staying Busy – Discover What Keeps Jackie Deininger Going
Basketball or volleyball? It’s a tough call for 15-year-old Jackie Deininger to pick a favorite.
“I’d say volleyball since it’s quick, fast moving and doesn’t involve a whole lot of running – I’m not a huge fan of that,” said the Walsh Jesuit High School student.
There was a time when Jackie wasn’t sure when she’d be able to return to the court after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 before the start of her freshman year.
After a difficult year of treatments and follow-up care, Jackie went into remission and gradually returned to her full schedule – including volleyball. She also decided to raise awareness and funds to help other teens affected by cancer.
In 2016, she served as the face of the Go4theGoal Foundation’s 2016 Lace Up 4 Pediatric Cancer® initiative in Akron, where she encouraged people to purchase specially-designed gold shoelaces to support Akron Children’s patients. The campaign raised a total of $12,400.
“I wanted to let other children and teens with cancer know that they’re not alone,” said Jackie. “As a former patient of the AYA program, I wanted to give back to Akron Children’s Hospital and thank them for the incredible care they gave me and my family.”