Roswell Park offers special support for young adults with cancer

Local News

Ashley Johnston was only 28 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. 

“I found the lump myself, just casually in the shower, and I was like, this doesn’t feel normal,” Johnston said. 

Johnston immediately called her OB/GYN. 

“At the time, before I started my journey with Roswell, they were like, “you’re so young, it’s probably a cyst,” Johnston said. “They told me I could wait six months, but I didn’t want to wait.” 

Biopsies determined that the Niagara Falls elementary teacher had cancer. 

Johnston had no history of cancer on either side of her family, and had even taken a gene test to determine whether she carried the BRCA gene, which she didn’t .

“When I found out I had it, I was just blown away that I even had it,” Johnston said. 

Around 80,000 young adults aged 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year. 

April 1 to 7 is National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week. 

It’s an age range where people are already going through life transitions, Dr. Denise Rokitka, director of Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Young Adult Program said. 

“A lot of young adults with cancer have a hard time finding other young adults who are going through expericences like they are,” Rokitka said. 

The program also helps young people discuss fertility preservation options, including egg and embryo  cryopreservation. 

“Fertility is a huge issue,” Rokitka said. “If a patient has time and can preserve before they start treatment, that’s ideal.” 

Roswell’s Young Adult Program, which was started in 2011, offers support groups for young adults affected by cancer. 

“During treatment, we’ve found that a lot of young adults feel isolated,” program assistant Odochi Uwazurike said. “They feel like they’re the only ones going through this in their age group.” 

Through activities like Sabres and Bills games, happy hours, and concerts, people in the program can connect with other people in their age group who have gone through similar experiences, and have a diversion from their treatment. 

“One of our patients refers to it as a ‘cancer club’,” Uwazurike said. “It’s a club that you don’t want to be a part of, but once you get that diagnosis, we’re happy to support you.” 

Johnston was involved in the program while she received treatment for breast cancer. 

“It’s kind of refreshing to talk to someone who gets it,” she said .

After many treatments including chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and reconstruction, Johnston has been cancer free since 2016. 

Her breast surgeon is on the guest list for her wedding in August. 

“Be your own health advocate if you think that something is wrong,” Johnston said. 

Roswell Park also offers tips and support for all young people to “live their best life” through Project Best Life. Click here for more information. 

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