This fall, UCLA relaunched their Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer program. With the relaunch of the program came the need to review how to best support the diverse needs of the patients the program serves.
The UCLA AYA cancer program aims to support the unique challenges such as fertility, navigating social situations, and finding a job, faced by many 15-39 year olds. Additionally, UCLA’s AYA Program aims to provide a space for AYA patients to express their experiences, develop resilience, and ultimately heal in a community with providers and peers who understand and support them. As the AYA Patient Navigator, it is important to me that all of the patients in the program have a place to find support. However, the large 24-year age range within the AYA program leaves room for its own set of challenges when creating a safe space to share because of the differing life stages and experiences, etc.. To address these challenges, two sub-programs have been developed to facilitate a safe, supportive space for AYA patients:
The first program, the monthly peer-to-peer support group, meets the second Tuesday of each month. This group is based on a traditional support group model designed for patients to gain emotional and practical support. The aim is to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, which are often experienced as a young adult trying to balance life and cancer at the same time. The group hopes to leave members with new coping tools, increased feelings of empowerment, practical information, as well as a new support system within the UCLA AYA Health System.
The second program, is the AYA Advisory Council made up of current and former AYA patients treated by the pediatric oncology team. The AYA Advisory council consists of 6 members ages 19 to 24 and meets monthly with the goal of working to improve the current and future care for AYA patients. We are actively recruiting more members. They share their narratives and support each other when thinking about innovative ways to improve the patient experiences. The council is currently working on two projects with the goal of providing a sense of community to their peers and plan to propose their ideas two hospital leadership in the coming weeks.
These two models create a voice for AYA patients while normalizing their experiences. Finding community through UCLA’s AYA Program has helped provide patients and their family member’s psychological and social support by reducing the sense of isolation and fear that come with a cancer diagnosis. We are excited to see how these programs grow and expand in the near future.
Julia Leavitt, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C
AYA Patient Navigator