+ -Text Size

Cancer Survivor Gives Voice To Young Adults Fighting Cancer

Article date: June 4, 2009

By 2020, the number of cancer survivors is expected to grow from 11 million to 20 million. We salute this ever-growing group on National Cancer Survivors Day, an annual celebration to celebrate life and honor cancer survivors. The event, which is organized by the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation and in its 22nd year, typically falls on the first week of June. This year, it will be held on Sunday, June 7.

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, we profile Heidi Adams, a cancer survivor from Texas who is the founder and Executive Director of Planet Cancer, a community of young adults with cancer. In 2005, she won the Lance Armstrong Foundation's LiveStrong award for her work, and in 2007, WebMD magazine named her a Health Hero. She recently received the American Cancer Society's Lane Awards Quality of Life Award, which recognizes unsung heroes of cancer care.

Adams -- now 41, married, and a mother of 5-and-a-half year old twins -- was 26 years old when she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a bone cancer that occurs most commonly in teenagers. Over the course of 14 months, she went through chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation. During that time, she rarely saw anyone her own age at the hospital or in support groups.

"Cancer is scary, isolating, and bizarre enough without also having to go through it alone," she recalls. "I went to a support group, and I was surrounded by people who were my grandparents' age. I thought, 'there have to be more people out there like me.'"

Lumped in with kids or older adults, young adults with cancer often get lost in the shuffle, says Adams.

According to Adams, nearly 70,000 young adults between the ages of 15-39 are diagnosed annually with cancer in the U.S., but cancer survival rates for young adults have remained nearly flat for the last 30 years.

"No one has systematically addressed the needs of young adults with cancer. They deserve to be acknowledged and treated appropriately," she says.

In 2000, she co-founded and launched Planet Cancer, a community of support and advocacy for young adults with cancer to meet and share their stories.

"Young adults with cancer have very specific needs and concerns. They're worried about fertility, how to reconcile cancer with their career aspirations. They are also in a group that's likely to be uninsured. And then there are survivorship issues and worries about secondary cancers -- this group is going to be dealing with cancer for a long time," says Adams.

Planet Cancer offers members message boards, coping tips, and via My Planet, a host of social networking tools – all with a sense of humor. Hot threads on the message boards have tackled everything from "Stupid Things People Say," which lists awkward comments patients have heard from friends and family, to "What kind of music is best to listen to while you're having an MRI?"

In addition to offering a place to connect electronically, Planet Cancer also hosts retreats so people can connect offline. Users come to Planet Cancer from all over the map and from different points in the cancer experience.

"Knowing other people are out there and going through similar things is a huge source of support, whether you're in treatment and worried about losing your hair or many months out of treatment and wondering 'Why don't I feel good yet?,'" says Adams.

For Adams, who also serves as co-chair of the Lance Armstrong Young Adult Alliance, the spirit of the community and the great people she's meet along the way spur her on. And she celebrates her survivorship everyday with her twins, who were born 10 years to the day she started her cancer journey.

Photo Credit: Michael O'Brien

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

Was this article helpful?

If you have a question or comment that requires a response from us, please use the form location on the Contact Us page.

Thank you for your feedback.