May 18, 2009

Center Focus On Teens’ Emotional And Medical Needs

Teenagers who are diagnosed with cancer face issues that younger patients do not, but fortunately programs have emerged at the Texas Children's Cancer Center ( and others across the country geared just for them.

The Texas Children's Cancer Center launched its adolescent program about four years ago, when staff realized that teens' emotional needs were not being met in the same way as the younger patients.

"It is critically important to their success not only with their cancer treatment but with their lives to help them find a healthy adjustment to the cancer bombshell," said Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer, associate professor of pediatrics "“ hematology/oncology at Baylor College of Medicine ( "The teen activities help our patients realize they truly aren't alone and, importantly, they can see other teens who are successfully winning their battle."

Teenagers already deal with issues such as poor self-esteem and body image and wanting to fit in. These are magnified when they are diagnosed with cancer, especially once they start suffering side effects of treatment, like losing their hair and bloating or swelling. In addition, they're out of school for long periods and deal with the loss of normalization and peer support, said Jalane Theis, a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner at the Texas Children's Cancer Center who leads the adolescent program.

"One of two things happens to our teenage patients," noted Theis, also an instructor in pediatrics "“ hematology/oncology at BCM. "Either they have amazing friends who rally around them or their friends move on because they're not in school and can't go to football games and other events. I would say that happens more often than not, unfortunately."

Teenagers also have the stress of understanding more about cancer, its potential mortality and the side effects of treatment than younger children and being aware of family issues, like financial struggles or their parents' marital problems.

And since teens are generally much sicker during their treatment, they do not interact with one another in the clinic like younger patients often do. The teen program at the Texas Children's Cancer Center focuses on allowing the patients to connect with one another and be as normal as possible, primarily outside of the clinic.

They go on monthly outings, like to dinner and a movie, indoor rock climbing or a local sporting event. They also can attend summer camp and several other weekend trips.

"Our goal is to have them connect with other teenagers who fully understand what they're going through, because that is an important element in being able to beat cancer," Theis said.

The Texas Children's Cancer Center is a joint center of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.


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