Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Young Adults as Long-Distance Caregivers

June 15, 2013

Young adults in their 20s and 30s can undoubtedly feel overwhelmed when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. Many have limited experience with caregiving, and may feel unprepared for their new role. And young adult caregivers who have relocated far from home to pursue a career or start a family may face even more challenges.

Ultimately, the question many young adults providing care from a distance grapple with is, “Should I stay or should I go?” It’s a difficult choice to make: Young adults may end up feeing guilty if they choose to “stay” in their current location, or feel obligated to “go” while making difficult sacrifices.

The decision to provide care from a distance or relocate closer to home to care for a parent often leads to feelings of uncertainty and isolation. For some young adults, relocation may not be financially feasible. Social and cultural demands to take an active role in caring for parents may also add feelings of pressure and stress. And caregiving, whether locally or from a long distance, can also drastically impact intimacy and relationships, as well as children and family life.

Young adults who must contend with competing commitments and responsibilities often feel that their busy lives are barriers to getting support. That’s why, for many young adult caregivers, and indeed anyone coping with a cancer diagnosis, online support groups are an ideal option for sharing difficult feelings with peers in a similar situation.

Professionally led, age-specific groups such as CancerCare’s Young Adult Caregivers Online Support Group offer a safe space for group members to share experiences and feel part of a virtual community of support. Online groups allow for flexibility, as members can share their thoughts and feelings and offer advice and support at any time from anywhere with an internet connection.

Many young adults caring for a parent with cancer find these groups to be incredibly rewarding experiences that help them define and make sense of their new role. CancerCare’s specialized services can ultimately reduce distress and enhance the coping of young adult caregivers as they consider whether to stay or to go.

Learn more about our free support services for caregivers and young adults. Start connecting with others online, over the phone, or in-person by registering for one of our support groups.

Author: Carly Mesavitz, LMSW, Oncology Social Worker, CancerCare


CancerCare Advocate Provides Hope for others Affected by Cancer

June 1, 2013

Maddy Gold sharing her story at the CancerCare Festival of Hope Gala

After being deeply impacted by cancer at such a young age, 13-year-old Maddy has become a courageous advocate for CancerCare’s free professional services available to anyone affected by cancer.

Maddy began coming to CancerCare for emotional support at the age of six after her mother, Alyssa, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. “It was important for me to be at CancerCare, because if not, I would have let my nerves and feelings get the best of me,” explained Maddy. “My mom started losing her hair and got a wig. At first I didn’t understand why, but CancerCare once again came to the rescue. They explained to me about the medicine in her body and how it made her lose her hair.”

In December 2006, Alyssa passed away. Maddy and her brother continued coming to CancerCare to learn how to cope with their loss and their father joined a weekly bereavement group.

Determined to give back to the organization that helped her family through their most challenging times, Maddy dedicated her Bat Mitzvah project to providing hope to CancerCare clients. “Because of my experience, I know a lot about cancer. I wanted to contribute my time to talking to or working with children,” she said.

She currently volunteers at the CancerCare New Jersey office each week helping to prepare for the annual Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp. One of her passion projects involves creating a memory lane path where the children can add their fondest memories of a lost loved one. She has also raised over $1,500 by selling CancerCare bracelets and collecting donations through her family’s “Hearts of Gold” walking team.

Maddy continues to inspire CancerCare staff and clients each day with her desire to provide others with help and hope in the face of cancer.

Preventing and Managing Caregiver Burnout in Young Adults

April 23, 2013

Did you know that as a young person, you are especially susceptible to high levels of stress when serving as a caregiver? Navigating your own life, starting a family, developing a career and a variety of other responsibilities can impact your ability to provide care for another person. There are many helpful strategies as you approach this new role that may help to ease the burden and prevent or manage caregiver burnout.

Define your role as caregiver:

Identify your role and responsibilities. Are you serving as a primary caregiver or a casual friend/acquaintance? These two types of roles are equally important.  Your responsibilities can be flexible, so give yourself permission to modify as circumstances change.

Set guidelines and limits. How much and how often are you willing to give? Create a workable schedule and give yourself a day off or a “vacation” from caregiving. Define your non-negotiables (i.e. not moving in with the patient to provide care, or not taking time off work).

Consider alternate options for caregiving. Who else can provide practical and/or emotional support? What respite care is available (e.g., home health aide, visiting nurse)?

Prioritize responsibilities. What is most important to the patient? To you?

Getting acquainted with your new role:

Read literature. Know what types of literature are best for you. Do you prefer concrete medical information or literature that is more emotionally supportive?

Find your role in the medical context. Consider decisions about becoming a healthcare proxy or a power of attorney. Understand the legal impact of these roles and discuss with the patient early on. Will you attend appointments?

Talk to healthcare professionals. Let doctors and the entire health care team know who you are, what your role is and how they can reach you. Hospital social workers or patient navigators can be helpful advocates for you and the patient.  Ask questions regarding what to expect throughout the process, both physically and emotionally.

Understanding your relationship with the patient:

Acknowledge differences between the caregiver and the person with cancer. These differences are to be expected and it is normal to disagree. Reflect on what your relationship was like before cancer. A diagnosis does not necessarily change someone’s personality or your relationship, so it is important to manage your expectations. Cancer can intensify problems that were there before. Plan to seek support to help sort through what issues are cancer-related and what issues are not. Ask, don’t assume, how you can be there for them–communication is essential.

Helping other people “get it” and managing expectations. Inform others about your role as caregiver and ask for help. Let them know how this change is impacting you and how they can help meet your needs. Re-telling the same story can be exhausting. Simplify by sending a mass e-mail or utilizing resources like Some people are good at practical tasks while others can offer emotional support–explore the abilities of others versus your expectations of them.

Finding “me” time. Maintain commitments and activities that pre-dated your caregiving responsibilities. Create and maximize alone time (e.g., take walks, practice breathing exercises) and take care of yourself (get recommended sleep, spend time with loved ones, seek counseling).

Finding what works for you. Remember that there is no right way to be a caregiver. Allow for a trial and error period and make sure to give yourself a break as soon as you need it.

Author: Carly Mesavitz, LMSW, Oncology Social Worker, CancerCare


Free Support Groups for Young Adults

September 14, 2012

Young adults ages 18-39 affected by cancer may find their goals sidelined. A cancer diagnosis may mean putting off the pursuit of a degree, advancing up the career ladder, pursuing a relationship, or starting a family. Being diagnosed at this age can be particularly difficult for young adults who may have previously believed that serious illnesses like cancer happen mainly to older people.

It is important for young adults facing cancer to know that they aren’t alone. The professional oncology social workers at CancerCare can help.

Among CancerCare’s free services for young adults, we offer online and face-to-face support groups where young adults can share their concerns with other young adults and get emotional support. We offer groups for people with cancer and caregivers, and are also currently recruiting participants for a support group for post-treatment survivors to be held at our national office in New York City. All support groups are led by a licensed oncology social worker.

Two young adults who came to CancerCare for support are Jonah and his wife, Kathryn, of Brooklyn, NY. Jonah was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma at age 28. His wife, Kathryn, faced the challenge of caring for Jonah while maintaining her own responsibilities at her job.

CancerCare Clients Jonah and Kathryn

Both Kathryn and Jonah participated in our free support groups, where they shared their concerns and received emotional support from other young adults. For both of them, their support groups helped them find strength and resolve they didn’t know they had. They added that CancerCare equipped them with tools to cope with the challenges of facing cancer.

Read more about Jonah and Kathryn and watch short video clips of them sharing about their experiences.

View all of our free services for young adults coping with cancer, which include counseling, education, and financial assistance.


Online Support Groups for People Coping with Cancer

July 26, 2012

CancerCare’s free online support groups connect you with others in a similar situation, helping you find support no matter where you live. Our online support groups are led by professional oncology social workers and are password-protected. Once members complete our registration process, they can participate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We offer over 20 different support groups targeting specific populations, such as people in treatment for cancer, people who are post-treatment, caregivers, and people who have lost a loved one.

A few support groups that are actively seeking new members include our Brain Tumor Caregiver Support Group, Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Support Group, and People Who Have Lost A Loved One Support Group.

Even if we don’t currently offer a group for your specific diagnosis, we do offer general groups for men with cancer and women with cancer.

All support groups are completely free of charge, but registration is requiredLearn more.

Practical Tips for Young Adults Coping with Cancer

May 17, 2012

While many people in their 20’s and 30’s are focused on finishing their education, starting their careers, and finding a partner, young adults affected by cancer may face different concerns, such as where to get the best medical care or how to pay for expensive treatments.

Two new CancerCare fact sheets address the unique challenges of facing cancer as a young adult.

“Coping with Cancer as a Young Adult,” addresses topics that include preserving fertility, disclosing a diagnosis to an employer, and managing physical changes. “Young Adults as Caregivers,” provides helpful tips on caring for a loved one with cancer while also caring for yourself.

Both of these fact sheets can be ordered through our website, and are available completely free of charge.

Along with our publications, we offer free, professional counseling for young adults, including online and face-to-face support groups, moderated by a CancerCare oncology social worker. Learn more about how we help young adults affected by cancer.

CancerCare Addresses Concerns of Young Adults Facing Cancer

March 20, 2012

Kathryn, a 28 year-old dance instructor living in New York City, felt the nervous excitement of finding “the one” when she first began dating Jonah. She was stunned, then, when Jonah told her he had been diagnosed with Stage-4 melanoma.

A cancer diagnosis is most often unexpected—which is especially true for young adults in their 20’s or 30’s. While it is rare, cancer is diagnosed in more than 70,000 young adults (ages 18-39) each year.

Kathryn’s strong feelings for Jonah convinced her to stay by his side, no matter what. And so she found herself in a role taken on by many young adults: being a caregiver for a loved one with cancer. It’s a role most are not prepared for.

CancerCare recently hosted a wellness event for twenty young adult patients and survivors, caregivers, and the bereaved at our national office in New York City. Our professional oncology social workers provided practical information and resources that address issues unique to young adults coping with cancer.

Kathryn recalls finding it difficult to balance her caregiving responsibilities while maintaining her own schedule and lifestyle as a young adult. She often felt alone, and that cancer was an all-consuming aspect of her life.

Kathryn turned to CancerCare, attending a support group for young adult caregivers. Her peers and oncology social worker helped her work through her feelings of isolation, and she in turn became a better caregiver to Jonah. Today, Jonah and Kathryn are married and living in Brooklyn. The couple recently celebrated the three-year anniversary of their relationship.

Read Jonah and Kathryn’s story of help and hope.

CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers understand the unique challenges and concerns of young adults coping with a cancer diagnosis. We offer individual counseling, as well as online and face-to-face support groups specifically for young adults.

Learn more about our free services for young adults.

Free Support Groups for People Affected by Cancer

January 12, 2012

CancerCare offers free support groups for anyone affected by cancer, including people with cancer, their caregivers, friends and loved ones, and the bereaved.

A cancer diagnosis can bring many difficult emotions, including fear, anxiety, and a feeling of isolation. Support groups connect you with others in a similar situation who may relate to what you are experiencing.

We offer diagnosis-specific support groups, such as a group for people affected by colorectal cancer, as well as specialized support groups, including groups for men with cancer, young adults with cancer, and parents of children with cancer.

CancerCare’s support groups are led by professional oncology social workers, and are available online, over the telephone, and face-to-face in our offices in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. To learn more about CancerCare‘s telephone and face-to-face support groups or to register, call 800‑813‑HOPE (4673).

Online support groups are password-protected, and members must go through a registration process. After completing the registration process, members can participate 24 hours, 7 days a week. New online support groups will be offered starting February 1.

View all of CancerCare’s free support groups.

Working During Cancer Treatment

September 21, 2011

In the latest issue of The Oncology Nurse, CancerCare Director of Education and Training Carolyn Messner, DSW provides tips on coping with cancer treatments while continuing to work.

The article addresses:

  • Legal protections that prevent discrimination in the workplace
  • Emotional concerns about returning to work
  • Ways that a workplace can accommodate people coping with cancer
  • Young adults’ unique concerns

Read the article.

CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers recently answered your questions about workplace issues through the “Ask CancerCare section of our website.

You can also listen to podcasts of our Connect Education Workshops on Cancer and the Workplace and Survivorship and Workplace Transitions.

Learn more about CancerCare’s free resources on coping with cancer in the workplace.

New Article Addresses Challenges Faced by Young Adults with Cancer

June 22, 2011

CancerCare CEO Helen H. Miller, LCSW addresses the unique challenges faced by young adults with cancer in the latest issue of Oncology Nurse Advisor.

While many young adults are focused on things like education, careers, or dating and starting a family, young adults with cancer may find themselves confronting different concerns, such as where to get the best medical care or how to pay for expensive treatments.

Miller’s article provides tips on how health care professionals can help young adults cope with a cancer diagnosis, and offers valuable resources young adults can turn to for support.

Read the article.

CancerCare provides free, specialized services for young adults affected by cancer, including counseling, support groups, and educational workshops.