While there is no good time in life to get cancer, teens and young adults have unique challenges that children and older adults do not experience. If you are in school, cancer treatment can disrupt your plans for graduation. If you are working, it has the potential to derail your career goals. Add to that concerns about relationships, appearance, independence, health insurance, questions about future ability to have children, and your social and emotional well-being, and it is safe to say a cancer diagnosis at this stage in life can turn your world upside down.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis at a young age can feel very isolating. Most of your peers are in school, traveling, building their careers, getting married and starting families. You may feel that you are the only one having to deal with serious health issues that take up all of your time, energy and attention.
You’re not alone. Each year, more than 70,000 adolescents and young adults in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. In South Carolina, AYA patients account for approximately 10% of newly diagnosed patients.
While there is no shortage of AYA patients, there has been a shortage of programs tailored to them to ensure they receive the best possible care. For multiple reasons, AYA patients have not realized the same benefits of cancer-related innovations that have been seen by both pediatric and older cancer patients with similar cancer types. Two possible reasons include a lack of coordinated care for this age group and a lack of enrollment in clinical trials, both issues which are nationally recognized by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines. AYA Cancer Care aims to eliminate both of those barriers to quality care.
Bon Secours AYA Cancer Care is a comprehensive, community-based program focused on coordinating care and improving clinical trial access of AYA patients in the Upstate. Ours is one of the few programs in South Carolina – and one of a few in the United States – exclusively dedicated to supporting adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer. AYA Cancer Care is one of the few AYA programs located in a community-based oncology program rather than a traditional academic setting.
The program takes a team approach to coordinate your care so that you receive the best treatment protocols, are enrolled in groundbreaking clinical trials and ultimately improve your quality of life while undergoing treatment. Our goal is to assure longer, healthier lives for young people with cancer.
Clinical trials are research studies in which people help doctors find ways to improve health and cancer care. Each study tries to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer.
Enrollment in clinical studies seems to be a missing link in the AYA population and may explain why AYA patients with certain cancers have not reaped the improvements in overall survival as have their pediatric counterparts. In the United States, nearly 65% of pediatric patients younger than 15 are enrolled onto therapeutic clinical trials, versus less than 20% of AYA patients. This corresponds to an overall lower chance of survival in certain cancers, such as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. A number of factors could be responsible for the superior improvement in pediatric survival over the years, but greater enrollment in clinical trials appears to play a part.
AYA Cancer Care has dedicated resources within a well-established Clinical Research Office which coordinates research and helps AYA patients find clinical trials appropriate for their cancer type.
AYA Cancer Care is built on teamwork: a pediatric and adolescent oncology-trained specialist, adult oncologists, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, a nurse navigator, a licensed adolescent and family counselor, a social worker and a clinical research coordinator. This team works together to coordinate the care of AYA patients so that they have the most advanced treatment protocols, are enrolled in the appropriate clinical trials, and are educated about what to expect during treatment, recovery and survivorship.
Hal Crosswell, MD | AYA Medical Director
Dr. Crosswell is a board certified pediatric and adolescent oncology-trained specialist with a decade of experience in pediatric, adolescent and young adult cancer care. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston before completing an internship and residency in pediatrics at the University of Louisville’s Kosair Children’s Hospital in Kentucky. He then completed a fellowship in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Emory University in Atlanta. He is active in many local and national medical organizations. In addition to overseeing AYA Cancer Care, he is Director of Clinical Research at Bon Secours Medical Group. He is married with 3 children and enjoys spending time with his family and pursuing outdoor activities.
Kaitlin Bomar, RN, BSN | AYA Nurse & Program Coordinator
Kaitlin Bomar is a 2008 graduate of Clemson University’s Nursing program. She worked at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina for four years on their pediatric hematology, oncology, and bone marrow transplant unit before joining St. Francis’s AYA team in 2012. She enjoys working with AYA patients and families as the outpatient nurse at Bon Secours Hematology & Oncology. Outside of work, Kaitlin enjoys traveling, being outside, and spending time with family and friends.
Nicole Vickery, RN, BSN, OCN | AYA Nurse Navigator
Nicole Vickery is an oncology certified nurse with 10 years of oncology experience at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System. She graduated from Clemson University and started her career as an adult inpatient oncology nurse. Her career has developed from an inpatient nurse, to oncology nurse educator and currently nurse navigator. Nicole is certified in areas such as bone marrow/stem cell transplant as well as chemotherapy administration. She is married with two children and enjoys time with family and friends.
“All of the staff at St. Francis seemed like family. I could have conversations with them for 30 or 40 minutes and I felt like I had a friend, it was enjoyable. Even though cancer is not a fun thing, it was hanging out with those people that made things pleasant and got my mind off of things.
I believe the greatest advice that I could give to any young adult is the attitude that you go into the situation, it’s literally the greatest thing that you can bring to any situation no matter if it’s cancer or life.”
– Johnny W., 19, Hodgkins Lymphoma Survivor