A pioneer in connecting young adults diagnosed with cancer, Stupid Cancer continues to raise the bar as a go-to resource for young adult cancer patients seeking community.
One of the major hurdles that adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients face is a sense of isolation; they may be the oldest patient being treated in a pediatric department or the youngest in a standard oncology unit; they may find that their friends don’t understand their concerns or are unable to provide support; if they are living near family, they may feel conflicted about needing help from their parents at a time when they are just launching independent lives; they may be living away from home but not yet fully established in their work or social lives to have a secure base of support. You get the idea: life for young adults with cancer can often present a lonely landscape—regardless of whether they are surrounded by family and friends.
Stupid Cancer is one organization working hard to “fill the gap” in resources and support for AYA cancer patients. Alli Ward, vice president of programs at Stupid Cancer, says, “While there are more than 72,000 young adults diagnosed every year, many young adults do not meet any other young adults at their treatment centers. Stupid Cancer, as an online resource and a program provider, extends itself to be a connector to ensure that no young adult has to face this journey alone.”
Founded in 2004 by young adult survivor Matthew Zachary as Steps For Living (which became I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation in 2007 and then Stupid Cancer in 2012), the organization is committed to empowering those affected by young adult cancer by building community, improving quality of life, and providing meaningful survivorship. The first step in delivering on that mission, Alli says, is to make sure that young adults know that there is a community waiting to welcome them: “Our charter is to ensure that no one affected by young adult cancer goes unaware of the age-appropriate support resources they are entitled to so they can ‘get busy living.’”
Recognizing that the young adults they serve have unique needs and find Stupid Cancer at various points along their journey, the organization offers a truly wide-ranging lineup of in-person and online resources. In addition to the extensive website, Alli says events and programs are created to meet survivors where they are—emotionally and physically (literally in their own neighborhoods sometimes). The annual national conference provides the opportunity to connect and learn over multiple days; smaller, regional conferences offer localized information through one-day forums; local boot camps are a “dynamic meeting of like-minded people” often co-sponsored by a local partner; “meet-ups” are less formal and neighborhood-oriented; the weekly radio show reaches thousands online, through the iTunes gallery and the iHeartRadio platform; and ongoing social media conversations provide current, ongoing dialogue.
Alli says that the variety of options for young adults means that each person can participate on a level works for them. “The community understands where you are, where you are going, and what you are facing,” she says. “You can share as much or as little as you want and still be connected.”
Soon, Alli says, the organization will have yet another way to connect young adults. Stupid Cancer is working to create a mobile app for peer connection called Instapeer (instapeer.org). “Instapeer is a mobile platform that will do automatic, anonymous one-to-one peer matching for cancer patients and caregivers,” she says. The addition of yet another resource to the Stupid Cancer lineup reflects the organization’s commitment to continually evolving to meet the needs of young adults. A survivor herself, Alli says that each new offering is a step toward the mission of ensuring that no young adult goes through cancer alone: “Cancer is a lonely place, and we want to ensure that there are age-appropriate services and programs available.”