Teen Cancer Center Bridges Treatment Age Gap

Innovative center focuses on the emotional needs of teens who don't fit in at pediatric or adult treatment centers.

Teenagers don’t expect to be diagnosed with cancer.

But when they are, finding the right place for treatment can be difficult. They are often too old for a children’s hospital but too young for an adult medical center.

To bridge this gap, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center created the Daltrey/Townshend Teen Cancer Program, a sanctuary for teenagers and young adults battling cancer.

"Their entire world is turned upside down," explained Dr. Noah Federman. "The most difficult part in the beginning for these patients is understanding that their life, as they know it, has changed."

That was the case for Joe Covarruvias, 19, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening bone and soft tissue cancer known as Ewing Sarcoma. The standout basketball player was ready for college when his illness put his dreams on hold.

"I was pretty shocked…it’s really unexpected and, you know, no one in my family has cancer," Covarruvias said.

Facing a 30 percent mortality rate, Covarruvias turned to UCLA’s Teen Cancer Program to begin an aggressive treatment regimen. While some of the procedures may be the same as the ones given to adult patients, the UCLA program recognizes that teens with cancer have very specific needs, distinct from their adult counterparts.

The program takes a holistic approach to treating teenage cancer patients, providing everything from emotional support in the form of group counseling to sessions on preserving fertility during chemotherapy.

"They feel supported and cared for besides just their family because the hospital and all the people that work here become their family as well," Dr. Federman said.

The hospital unit is specifically designed to cater to teens, complete with a teen lounge that revolves around socializing, relaxing, and game playing. Doctors are allowed in the lounge under one condition: no medical talk.

"This is a really important space because it allows our teenagers and young adults to get together as peers in a nonthreatening environment," Dr. Federman said.

Although the UCLA program is unique in the United States, the Teenage Cancer Trust has already funded 19 such programs in the United Kingdom.

Legendary rockers Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who helped fund the program with support from Led Zepplin frontman Robert Plant.

"We hope to bring the success of the Teenage Cancer Trust program in the UK to this inaugural program at UCLA," Plant said in a news release.

Covarruvias underscored how the UCLA program has spurred within him a sense of hope.

"It’s real nice being able to get out of your room and coming to this teen lounge… being able to use the computer, the game," said Covarruvias. "It’s really a good way to get your mind off of it…get your mind away from the sickness and just be able to have a good time while you’re here."

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