When You’re a Young Adult, You Have Cancer, and You Feel Like No One “Gets It”
by Erin Price, MSW, LGSW
Cancer is a difficult experience for anyone to go through. But coping with the overwhelm, stress, and raw emotions that a cancer diagnosis and treatment often bring can be especially difficult when you are a young adult.
Imagine trying to deal with cancer while navigating the major milestones of young adulthood: going to school, building a career, meeting a partner, getting married, buying a house, and starting a family, just to name a few. Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it?
Now imagine feeling as if no one really “gets it” because, every time you go to the cancer center, you are by far the youngest person there, and you don’t feel like any of your family or friends really understand either. Cancer is hard, but for a young adult, a cancer diagnosis can be debilitating.
“YES! I’m dealing with all of that! What do I do?”
I’m often asked for resources to help young adult cancer survivors, and while there are a growing number of resources and organizations working to help young adults with cancer, my number-one recommendation is to start by surrounding yourself with support.
“I have really supportive friends and family, so I’m good, right?”
Maybe. It’s fantastic to have a great support system of close friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers in place, but at some point, they might not be enough. Friends and family can provide an invaluable level of support – everything from helping you get to appointments and making treatment decisions to being a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. However, there may come a time when you feel like these wonderful people surrounding you just don’t “get it.” They are well-meaning, and they certainly care, but they may not understand what it feels like to be a young adult with cancer or know how to meet your needs.
“Yeah, they don’t really seem to understand how difficult all of this is emotionally.”
The most important thing I recommend to young adult cancer survivors is to get connected to other young adults with cancer. Young adult meetup and support groups are popping up across the country, so you should check with your local cancer center or cancer support organization to see if they have a young adult program. If you don’t have an in-person program in your area, there are number of online and national support organizations that can help get you connected to other young adults facing cancer. I’ve heard so many people express that getting connected to other young adult cancer survivors was a life-changing experience and a huge help to getting them through cancer.
Erin Price is the director of Young Adult and Psychosocial Support Programs at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC, where she runs the DC Young Adult Cancer Community, provides group and individual support to cancer survivors, manages cancer retreats, and serves as an integrative patient navigator. A leader in the DC cancer circuit, Erin believes in the power of community and strives to help those faced with cancer connect to other survivors so that no one has to go through it alone.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2018.