January 6, 2012

Battling Cancer

How young people are fighting back against the disease.

Shelby: What are you studying?

Caroline Hale: I’m a math major.

Shelby: When Caroline Hale counsels young people with cancer, she speaks from experience. At age thirteen, Caroline complained of back pain. Doctors said it was from her backpack but she turned out to have Non-Hodgkins lymphoma wrapping around her spine. It is a type of cancer that attacks the disease-fighting white blood cells in the body’s lymphatic system.

Caroline: They hit you with so much poisonous drugs, so many poisonous drugs, so much chemotherapy; you can’t help but to feel lifeless.

Shelby: Caroline is part of a largely unknown group in the war on cancer. Young people in their teens, 20′s, and 30′s account for more than 72,000 new cancer diagnoses every year. That is one diagnosis every eight minutes, and seven times more than cancers in children.

Caroline: Our peers are suffering that there haven’t been medical advances that have trickled down to our age group.

Shelby: This week, the American Cancer Society announced that death rates from cancer have dropped, but there has not been much improvement for teens or young adults. Up until now, research about the cancers affecting young people had mostly been lumped together with other types of cancer. And screening for those types of cancers is difficult. And not usually part of a routine medical check-up if a young person appears healthy. But by raising awareness about this unique group, young victims and survivors are hoping to change that.

Matthew Zachary: Cancer left a hot mess and we are going to go and clean it up!

Shelby: Matthew Zachary is one of those young victims. After surviving brain cancer, he founded an organization called Stupid Cancer.

Matthew: I was 21 when I was diagnosed with brain cancer. There was no one out there that was offering this level of community or aggregation or, sort of, this umbrella of support resources to the next me.

Shelby: Matthew’s organization helps connect young cancer victims to a number of resources, like peer groups, legal assistance, scholarships, and conferences like the OMG Cancer Summit for young adults.

“Once you know that someone else is a cancer survivor, there are so many things you can both just relate to and understand about each other that you can instantly just connect on that level.”

Shelby: For young people, surviving cancer early can mean a lifetime of complications from the treatment.

“When the doctor says you’re cured, go home, that’s not the end of the story. You have the rest of your life to get busy living through the challenges and consequences of not dying from the treatments.”

Shelby: And that is why Matthew and others are reaching out to help more young patients survive and to help them live their lives along the way.

Matthew: I’m just befuddled by how this has exploded into what it has. And it has just been an amazing ride. I can’t wait to see where the next ten years go.

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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