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Parents of 19-year-old Calgary woman who died of cancer say young cancer patients need more support

WATCH: A Calgary couple who lost their 19-year-old daughter to cancer is speaking out about the unique challenges facing young adults with cancer. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a new study has identified the emotional and financial hardships faced by people in their 20s and 30s who are dealing with cancer.

Nineteen-year-old Taylor Bell had just graduated from high school in Calgary and had moved out to continue school in Toronto.

READ MORE: Young Canadian adult cancer survivors continue to struggle beyond their illness

But the talented singer and musician started feeling rundown and her gums were bleeding. After what she thought would be a quick trip to the doctor, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died nine months later in December 2013.

“It’s not something you would ever think your children would go through — no matter what age they are,” said Jacqueline Oulton-Bell, Taylor’s mother.

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Jacqueline and her husband, Don Bell, said the journey through their daughter’s illness was lonely. Taylor was too old for the Alberta Children’s Hospital and all the other patients they met at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary were older. It was also devastating for their son Travis, who was 16 years old when his big sister was diagnosed.

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“We never reached out to other people because… we didn’t know what to do. We were the first ones of our group, really, the only ones still of our group that I’ve had to deal with this,” Jacqueline said.

READ MORE: Young Canadian adult cancer survivors continue to struggle beyond their illness

Don and Jacqueline have started a fundraiser in Taylor’s memory. This year, it was held on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 4th Spot Kitchen & Bar in northwest Calgary and raised over $17,000. The event raised money for Young Adult Cancer Canada, a charity that provides support programs for young people dealing with cancer.

A study from the group released in September stated that the lack of support programs has led to intense isolation for young patients and their families. The report also revealed the financial impact on young people who end up missing years of work.

“There are so many of them that want to start a family and now that has been taken away from them. Maybe they’re just newly married or engaged and that may break up. For parents too, it can break up families,” Jacqueline said.

‘Pretty much given up on life’

Blair Richardson is undergoing chemotherapy at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. The 25-year-old had to quit his studies at Mount Royal University when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

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“I noticed all my peers who I would’ve graduated with are off starting their own lives, making their own money and buying their own houses, and I am 25 and still stuck at home,” Richardson said at the fundraiser on Saturday.

Not only was Richardson fighting for his life but friends he thought would be there for him suddenly disappeared. He figures they were afraid to talk about cancer.

“I had pretty much given up on life. I didn’t have anything outside of my house to do,” Richardson said. “No one ever came to visit me except for family.”

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But then Richardson got in touch with YACC, something he advises all young patients and their families to do. He now calls himself a “YACCtivist,” spreading the word about the organization.

“My life changed forever. I finally met people who could get it and you didn’t have to explain your story to. They have just become the best support I could’ve asked for,” Richardson said.

According to the study, 84 per cent of young adult cancer survivors experience significant levels of fear of cancer recurrence. The founder of YACC said limited funding means only one of the 22 young adults diagnosed today in Canada will find their way to the program.