Geoff Eaton was 22 years old, had just finished university and was ready to take on the world.
But a sudden weakness in his stomach, cold sweats, and a fainting spell turned his life upside down. Eaton was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
It would take Eaton some time to accept his cancer diagnosis, but he would eventually recover and go on to found YACC – Young Adult Cancer Canada, in 2000.
YACC is now conducting a Canada-wide study that will outline in detail what it’s like for young adults living with cancer and what is needed to help them move forward in life after their diagnosis and treatment.
He remembers the struggle of coming to grips with his own diagnosis. “I really started a monologue inside my head. ‘Leukemia, I have Leukemia. I can handle that,'” Eaton told Global News.
Eaton is now a two-time cancer survivor. Battling the disease has enlightened him on the true cancer experience for young adults and he realized it was not what he was expecting.
“We don’t have our own hospitals. That might sound silly. But the cancer rates in young adults are way more than the kids, and Canadian social policy has this tier of 18 and under,” Eaton says.
Research conducted by YACC revealed that over 8,000 young adult Canadians are diagnosed with cancer every year, but there are very few support groups and programs available to help them deal with issues unique to them, like social interaction, mental health issues, and reintegration into schooling and the workforce.
“It’s our effort to set the foundation, if you will, around the young adult cancer experience in Canada,” Eaton said.
“Young adults represent 0.4 per cent of cancer research spending. We have the lowest participation in trials, (and) no national networks,” Eaton said. “Our effort with this YACC prime study is to begin to put some of the experiences that we deal with every day at YACC (together) with some of those young adults that we support.”
The Canada-wide study now underway will hopefully come up with ways to help young cancer patients move on after diagnosis and treatment.
“We are looking at the psycho-social health of young adults — their stress, their anxiety, their body image. We are going to look at their financial health, … and we are going to look at their physical health,” Eaton said.
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“That alone is going to be an incredibly powerful piece. But we are also going to compare our young adults with cancer to their brothers and sisters who did not have cancer.”
The hope is the findings from the YACC study will prompt more direct conversations about cancer and young adults and eventually lead to a change in policy and spending decisions at both the provincial and federal levels of government.