New cancer program for adolescents and young adults

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new program to help cancer patients who are in a rare age group for diagnosis between 15-years-old to 39-years-old has been developed.

“Adolescents or young adults have no clinical home,” said Huntsman Cancer Institute patient navigator, Sara Salmon. “They don't belong in a children's hospital where we see a lot of little kids and they don't necessarily belong in an adult hospital where we see a log of older adults over the age of 50.”

The Huntsman Cancer Institute and Intermountain Healthcare has found those patients feel isolated and “lonely” during their care and treatment.

“You're also not used to talking with your employer or your educator about how to navigate this,” explained Salmon as she discussed the questions she has received since she started the cancer patient navigator program in October. “You know, can you ask for medical leave? Or is this such a new job that you don't qualify for medical leave yet? Have you had to transition to different health insurance plans because you fell off your parents insurance and now you're having to learn a whole new health insurance plan? What's covered what's not? If you’re a high school student or college student, can you take time off school? A whole semester? Longer than that?”

Another big concern for this age group should be fertility, according to Salmon. However, some patients do not even know to be concerned about that.

“Fertility is such a big issue with cancer because the cancer itself and the treatment may impact your fertility and if your provider doesn't bring it up, how in the world would someone know to ask about their fertility? That's not something that is just common knowledge," said Salmon.

26-year-old Marina Pimentel was diagnosed in June of 2016. She was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. She is now in remission. She only started seeing Salmon after her chemo ended, but she wishes she had seen her from the start. However, now Salmon is also able to offer Marina’s family resources for supporting Marina the best way they can.

“A lot of children and older people get diagnosed with cancer and so there is lots of resources for them but young adults feel isolated and alone in going through this,” said Pimentel. “And I was like am I the only person who has cancer that's my age?”

Talking one-on-one with Salmon has made all the difference in turning Marina’s feelings of loneliness into camaraderie.

“Since I am a survivor I can now be a resource for other people my age so I can work with her and be part of the support group," said Salmon.