5 Tips for Friends of Young Survivors

Mary Connolly head shot

By Mary Connolly, MSW Student Intern, JamesCare for Life

A cancer diagnosis in adolescence and young adulthood (ages 15-39) presents some unique challenges. Unlike children who often do not fully understand the diagnosis, treatment process or chance for recurrence, adolescent and young adult (AYA) survivors definitely do. On top of that, many AYA survivors are making their own treatment decisions – some that are life-and-death – without any preparation or time to process what’s happening.
Adolescence and young adulthood is already a transitional time in life, with large decisions looming: whether to attend college, goals for the future, career plans and relationships. Cancer makes this time even more challenging by causing many AYA survivors to question their pre-cancer goals, redefining what matters most to them and deciding which dreams to prioritize after finishing treatment.

Treatment and adjusting to life after cancer can become a lonely time. Friends are out pursuing their passions and dreams, which can leave young survivors feeling forgotten and questioning whether they will also have the opportunity to live outside the walls of the hospital, free from doctor appointments and routine scans.
Relationships with friends and family can become strained. AYA survivors often don’t know how to verbalize their fears surrounding the uncertainty of a future free from cancer. Loved ones may be unsure of what to say, when to say it and how to lovingly support an AYA survivor. Learning how to communicate well about these sensitive topics provides opportunities for growth and deepened relationships.

Here are a few tips to consider as you support the young survivor in your life:
  1. Acknowledge. A cancer diagnosis can be shocking. There may be few things in life that can prepare someone for learning how to cope with diagnosis, treatment and then resuming life after treatment.“I’m so sorry that you have to go through this right now. This is really hard, but I am here for you,” may go a long way for the young survivor in your life.
  2. Be normal. In many ways, this is still the same person whom you spent time with before the diagnosis. Do the things you like to do together, talk about the things you’ve always talked about, and laugh.
  3. Listen. There is nothing you can say to change a cancer diagnosis or make treatment less challenging. Knowing that a friend or family member cares enough to listen can make all the difference.
  4. Help. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can be helpful – you won’t know unless you ask. Preparing your friend’s favorite meal won’t help if he or she is too nauseated to eat. Instead, it may be more helpful for you to mail a package, mop the kitchen floor, or pick up a few things at the grocery store.
  5. Support. Observe and listen to what makes your friend or loved one feel supported. It may be a handwritten note, a phone call, an email or text message or a visit at the hospital on a treatment day. Sometimes little things can have the greatest impact and make the cancer process manageable from one day to the next.
The James recognizes the unique needs of young survivors and offers two programs to help them connect with others going through a similar experience.

Young Survivor Support Group
1st Wednesday of every month; 6:30-8 p.m.
Call for location information.

Young Survivor Book Club
3rd Wednesday of every month; 7-8 p.m.
Colin’s Coffee – 3714 Riverside Drive, 43221

For more information, call JamesCare for Life at 614-293-6428.