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Supporting Young Adults with Cancer

Shalimar (Shali) Manuel, was just 20 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1999. “Your 20s should be a time of excitement, meeting new friends, and enjoying life,” said Shali. “It’s a time of transition - moving away from home, beginning university, starting a new relationship, buying a first home. This can be both stressful and exciting, but a cancer diagnosis changes everything.”

Shali’s cancer experience prompted her to become involved as a volunteer with Young Adult Cancer Canada (originally RealTime Cancer), an organization established in 2000 to provide support and information to people like Shali and the 7,000 young Canadians (15-35 years) who face a cancer diagnosis each year.

The organization began as an online peer support community for young adults and has since evolved to include a variety of programs and resources: Retreat Yourself and Retreat Yourself Adventure; the annual Survivor Conference; Goaltender; Localife; Touch Yourself, Trust Yourself; and We Get It.

“All programs focus on supporting and delivering positive messages to young adults, as well as decreasing isolation,” said Shali, who today is Eastern Program Coodinator for Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC). Young Adult Cancer Canada partners with cancer centres and community organizations across the country to help promote the availability of their programs and services for young adults.

ShalimarManuelRetreat Yourself is one of YACC’s oldest face-to-face programs. It was first launched in 2005 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Since then the annual retreat has grown to include two retreats this year, Retreat Yourself West, which was held in early May in Alberta and Retreat Yourself East, which will be held in Cape Breton from July 19-23, 2012. These retreats provide an opportunity for 25 young adults (and their supporters) with cancer to get together to share stories, talk about concerns and build relationships that will last a life time.

“Retreat Yourself is primarily intended for young adults who are in an early stage of their cancer journey,” said Shali, “The retreat is a chance for young people to connect with their peers who are dealing with similar issues.”

The four-day retreat is professionally facilitated. It includes small group work and lots of recreational activities. There is no cost to attend, but participants are responsible for the costs in travelling to the retreat site. Travel Assistance is available for people who need it. At the moment, registration for Retreat Yourself East is full; however, interested individuals can request to be added to the waiting list.

For the first time this year, Young Adult Cancer Canada is hosting Retreat Yourself Adventure from August 15-20 in Newfoundland. This retreat will give young adult cancer survivors an opportunity to address survivorship issues while taking part in an adventure that will challenge them physically and mentally. Registration is currently open. Interested individuals can visit YACC’s website for information on how to apply.

While the retreats are intended for young adults in the early part of their cancer journey, the Survivor Conference, scheduled for November 1-5 in Toronto, is focused primarily on survivorship and getting back on track after completing cancer treatment. Examples of workshop topics include: physical activity, brain fog and intimacy. Unlike the retreats, which participants can only attend once, the conference is open to returning participants.

In addition to the face-to-face programs, the retreats and survivors conference, YACC has several resources for young adult cancer survivors. Goaltender is an online program that enables survivors to set goals for themselves, keep track of the medical appointments, and connect with their peers. “We Get It” is a free video resource, which includes eight young adults sharing their cancer stories; and Touch Yourself, Trust Yourself is a program that promotes the importance of knowing and being aware of changes in your body.

All programs are available to young Canadian adults with cancer free of charge. Program funding comes through individual donations as well as the fundraising event, Shave for the Brave, where individuals in communities, schools and offices in cities across the country shave their heads for pledges which are donated to YACC. This year ‘Community Shaves for the Brave’ occurred in St. John’s, Halifax, Ottawa, Calgary and Red Deer. So far this year, the events have raised just over $670,000.

For more information about Young Adult Cancer Canada and its programs, visit www.youngadultcancer.ca.

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Young Adult Cancer Canada’s founder and Executive Director is two-time cancer survivor Geoff Eaton, who was just 22 when he was first diagnosed with cancer. He realized first-hand the many challenges of coping with cancer at a young age and the value that peer support could bring.