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Local hospitals working to create unique space for cancer patients

Posted January 13

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— In most cancer centers around the country, teenagers and young adults often receive treatments alongside children or much older adults.

There is a new ad campaign, Teen Cancer America—sponsored by First Citizens Bank—to create centers that meet the unique needs of patients.

Last fall, before finalizing college plans in New York, 18-year-old Dominque Parson—a patient at UNC Hospitals—began treatments for acute myeloid leukemia.

Parson said there was only one other patient his age at the hospital.

“I didn’t want to come out of that room because I didn’t feel comfortable, really,” he said.

In 2006, Jackie Diberto was just 14 when doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in her hip.

Diberto was cared for at Duke’s Children’s Hospital, surrounded by mostly smaller children.

“It was extremely overwhelming,” Diberto said.

Both Duke and UNC have appropriate surroundings and programs for young children, but now they are thinking about the unique needs of patients ages 15 to 29.

“This is an age group where it matters what’s happening in your peer group,” said Dr. Donald Rosenstein, director of UNC Heath’s comprehensive cancer support program. “Perhaps the nature of the cancers in this age group suffers from is different from when you’re younger or older.”

More hospitals collaborating on Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program research may improve treatments and outcomes.

“They are figuring out who they are as people and trying to establish a life for themselves, and the challenge of doing that while they're sick,” said Lauren Lux, UNC Health’s AYA program director.
It’s believed that meeting the psycho-social needs of patients like Parson and Diberto is just as important.

“Coming up with programming that makes sense, that meets the age group’s needs, is something that we’re interested in,” Lux said.

Parsons is now on the bone marrow transplant waiting list, and Diberto is cancer free, and she’s a nursing student at Duke hoping to work in pediatrics.

“UNC and Duke are both challenged with identifying separate spaces in their facilities for AYA cancer patients,” WRAL’s Dr. Allen Mask said. “It’s now in the concept stage as they think about designing the space, creating programs.”

UNC now has a director for its AYA program, and Duke is currently searching for one of its own.

“They’re also thinking about specialized staff members, like nurse practitioners, psychologists, social workers and recreation specialists,” Mask said.

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