Any cancer diagnosis is an emotional time in someone’s life. When young women are diagnosed with cancer they face many unique challenges, including added emotional and psychological factors dependent on the busy and unique lives they lead.
Young women are often juggling many life challenges from studying and focussing on their career to relationships, raising a family, or planning to start a family, as well as general social commitments and body-image concerns.
Being diagnosed at a young age can be psychologically challenging. Often patients are faced with the fear of putting life on hold, changing their future plans and even dealing with the family and friends not being able to cope with their diagnosis.
Several studies suggest that young women with cancer often feel a sense of self isolation and stigmatism particularly because of their age at diagnosis. The majority of current support groups are targeted to women aged 50 and above, with many active participants post-menopausal. It is this isolation and lack of shared experience that affects the mental health of young cancer patients. For this age group, peer-to-peer support is an extremely important step to help maintain a positive attitude and good quality of life.
Although people often have the support of family and friends, the experience they have through cancer is still their own. Having someone to talk to who has been through a similar experience allows for greater empathy and practical advice. It provides patients with familiarity, seeing someone else around their age get through cancer treatment, being able to connect with them and listen to their advice knowing they have been in their shoes.
Dr Lee Guek Eng sees the impact peer-to-peer support plays throughout someone’s cancer diagnosis.
“It is important to connect cancer survivors with current cancer patients, particularly those who share similar diagnosis and concerns. As a doctor my priority is to always comfort and care for my patients, but the patient to patient relationship is often even more powerful. They support one another as friends, knowing the feelings they once felt and sharing their stories and giving them encouragement and hope,” Dr Lee said.
The Icon Young Women’s Cancer Program introduces past young patients with current patients who act as mentors throughout their cancer journey. Whether it is sitting chair-side at their appointments, or being a phone call away, helping them with side effects or connecting them with other support groups, or talking to their loved ones, these women are a constant peer support at each step of a patient’s experience.
Peer-to-peer support is vital to the well-being of cancer patients and provides an added level of care and comfort to what is often an extremely emotional and stressful time for patients and their families.