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Another Awareness Week?

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Happy National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week! (NYACAW, to those who relish a good tongue-twister.)

I bet I know what you're thinking. "Another awareness week? Which ribbon do I wear?" Or maybe you're thinking, "Young adult cancer? Huh?"

Either way, we've got a problem.

It does seem as if there are a lot of "awareness days/weeks/months" on the books. Every possible disease and issue seems to have one. Some of them are entertaining, some silly and redundant. Others can be game changers.

National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week is in the game-changer category.

It's amazing, really, how much difference a week can make if we put it to work doing its number one job. For NYACAW, the goal is simple: raising awareness about young adult cancer to drive research and solutions that will improve the care and treatment of young adults with cancer between the ages of 15 and 39.

We owe this to all those young adults who are or have been in the cancer trenches. To anyone who ever said, "I thought I was the only one" because they didn't see one other young person in their doctor's office. To anyone who ever heard, "You're too young to have cancer." And to those we have lost, this week is a chance to say, "We honor your life by working to make things better for other young adults."

If you don't have cancer and you don't know any young adults with cancer, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with you. You're thinking, "Yeah, everyone wants me behind their worthy cause. My dance card is full. Does this really matter?" The answer is yes. Here are the top nine reasons why NYACAW really does matter:

  1. Because approximately 70, 000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S every year between the ages of 15 and 39.
  2. Because a young adult is diagnosed with cancer approximately every 8 minutes.
  3. Because young adults often lose their fertility due to chemo, often without even knowing it was a risk.
  4. Because survival rates for young adults with cancer have barely improved since the 1970s, as opposed to children and older adults who have enjoyed significant improvement in survival rates.
  5. Because young adults often experience a delayed diagnosis since, "People your age don't get cancer." The later the diagnosis, the greater the chance that cancer has spread.
  6. Because young adults are disproportionately uninsured and underinsured, leaving them with insurmountable bills and often leading to bankruptcy.
  7. Because 6% of all cancer diagnoses are in young adults, compared to less than 1% in children.
  8. Because many young adults starting out their independent lives often find themselves back in their childhood bedrooms after a diagnosis.
  9. Because young adult cancer can derail your entire life. New job, new partner, new life. Everything. For a long, long time.

Young adult cancer is different. People need to know it's different. We can't solve a different problem with the same old answer. If we're going to change a system that doesn't recognize young adults as a distinct group, and all too often fails to meet their needs, we need attention and focus on young adults -- not as an afterthought, but as the only thought.

So, if you have cancer, share this list with your healthcare team. If you don't have cancer, share it with your primary care physician. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your co-workers. Tell that guy you always see at the sandwich shop at lunch and tell your favorite check-out person at the grocery store. Speak up.

Wear whatever ribbon you want, but this year, let's make National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week count.

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