Shawn Mendes
A young patient with cancer stands with Shawn Mendes, international artist performing at the event. (Photo: AYA Program)

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating.

It's estimated that 191,300 Canadians developed cancer in 2014.

A cancer diagnosis as early as the age of 15 is unthinkable – yet young adults account for about two per cent of all patients diagnosed with cancer in Canada. The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has approximately 1,300 newly diagnosed young patients each year under the age of 39.

The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology​​ program at the Princess Margaret provides personalized, supportive, non-medical care for patients 39 and under. Young adult patients often have different needs than those diagnosed when they are older. Their needs may be related to:

  • Fertility preservation and risks
  • Sexuality and sexual health
  • School and work transitions
  • Social relationships
  • Nutrition
  • ​Exercise​

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The AYA program recently hosted a Look Good Feel Good event for young adult patients on Jan. 21.

"There are many young adults living with cancer who don't expect a diagnosis at their age. They're focused on finishing school, starting work, or building a family. It can be isolating," says Seline Tam, an intern with the AYA Program and organizer of the event.

"It's important for us to have events that bring young people together to have a good time and take their minds off of their diagnoses."

The event started in the Wig Salon at Princess Margaret where Laurie Tucker, wig specialist, discussed different wig types and had a young patient model a wig for the group.

Susan Wener also came in to talk about the Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) program, a free two-hour workshop for women diagnosed with cancer. During the workshop, patients are provided with skin care and make-up tips, along with beauty products for their personal use. The program dedicates the first Wednesday workshop of each month to young adult patients at the cancer centre.

Laurie Tucker, Paulene Harvey and Adriana Lombardo 
(From left to right) Laurie Tucker, Paulene Harvey and Adriana Lombardo. Adriana, 17, diagnosed with leukemia, models a bright orange scarf.(Photo: AYA Program)​

As an alternative to wigs, Paulene Harvey, who runs a scarf-tying workshop at the Wig Salon on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, also came in to do a head-wrapping demonstration.

"Scarves are a fashion statement," says Harvey. "They are not just for girls – guys can wear them too."

In the second half of the event at the Pencer Centre, two cancer survivors spoke about their experience being diagnosed as young adults.

Margaret Lynch, director, Internet and Social Media at The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, was diagnosed with leukemia at a young age. Although the success rate of a bone marrow transplant was low, she took a chance on it, and has now been cancer free for over 25 years.

Tyler McGregor was an able-bodied hockey player until he was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, resulting in an amputation. In spite of his amputation, he continues to play hockey –sledge hockey – and eventually played at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics from which he brought home a bronze medal for Canada.

Finally, the night concluded with a special performance from Shawn Mendes, a young international breakout artist from Toronto, known for his hit, 'Life of the Party.'

Shawn Mendes 
Shawn Mendes, international artist, gave a special performance at the event. (Photo: AYA Program)​

"There are very few activities for young patients at our hospital so holding this AYA event was very important to us – and it fortunately included some very special guests," says Laura Mitchell, Clinical Nurse Specialist in the AYA Program. 

"We really can't thank Shawn and Tyler enough for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend. I could tell ​by the smiles on patients' faces that they were excited to meet them. I know this opportunity really made their day." 

Special thanks to Victoria Forcina, Silvia Vilas Boas, Kiran Thiara, Chris Schuh, Ron Beauchesne and Nina Betson for volunteering their time to help with the event.​​

Find out more about the AYA Program.

Additional resources for young adult cancer patients:
Facebook: AYA Cancer Canada Resources
Twitter: @AYACancerCanada​

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