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Not Your Father’s Cancer

Posted Oct 28 2008 9:56pm

Stupid Cancer. Crazy Sexy Cancer. This isn’t what you think it is.

Over the last few months, it seems there has been a major push of cancer awareness. Sure, everybody knows about cancer. But say cancer and most young people conjure up mages of grandma and grandpa (and most readers of this blog probably think of their parents). Say leukemia and you get that non-descript image of the elementary school-aged child with the bald head. That’s not what this is about.

Over the last few months, the push has been on for awareness of adolescent and young adult cancer. 1 in 10 cancer survivors is under age 40…that’s just over 1 million survivors. MSN recently profiled two breast cancer survivors in their 20’s. Discovery Channel has been airing Kris Carr’s documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer, chronicling her own experience with cancer. She also interviews other young powerful and dynamic women with cancer, including Glamour magazines Erin Ruddy (who says Gleevec so many times I wonder why there isn’t any fair balance from Novartis on the show). And Nightline ran a hard-hitting episode about cancer’s “sandwich generation.”

The notion of young people’s cancer was first brought to my attention by Matthew Zachery, founder of I’m Too Young For This and a force behind much of the publicity of youth cancer. The group has reached nearly 50,000 young cancer survivors.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Zachery about youth cancer and the special needs of this population. As a survivor, he speaks passionately about the issue and notes, “that the public health inequity facing GenX will only be solved from within it's own ranks.”

Zachery realized there was a problem from, “the moment I was diagnosed as a 21 year old college student back in 1995. Isolation is the #1 psychosocial issue faced by adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer. Surprisingly, here we are 12 years later in the information age of social networks and the same is true. On top of this, survival rates for young adults remains unchanged across decades. So, on top of the social need, there's now evidence to support a clinical one as well, both issues very few if any institutionalized groups are tackling.”

He noted, “Pharma has no interest in what we do - there's no money or ROI in it for them. They don't do research or focus their time or energy on adolescent and young adult oncology because that's not where the money is considering 94% of all cancer diagnosis are over the age of 40.”

Zachery’s group, I’m Too Young for This, has launched a couple of YouTube Public Service Announcements that are worth checking out.
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