Cancer Patients Find Support through MSK's Teen and Young Adult Program

Teen and young adults patients with Roger Daltrey of The Who

Teen and young adults patients hang out with Roger Daltrey of The Who at the opening ceremony for the Lounge.

Nineteen-year-old Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer patient Clayton ushered in his recent birthday not from his hospital bed, but from a brand new space called the Lounge. Part of the new Teen and Young Adult Program at MSK (TYA  @  MSK), the tech-friendly, relaxed room offers patients like Clayton a place to get away from the concerns and rigors of their cancer care.

Teens and young adults often receive treatment alongside pediatric patients or older adults, rarely encountering people their own age. MSK sought to change that.

“The space has been completely renovated using designs that the patients have come up with, focusing on what is most meaningful for them,” said Craig Thompson, MSK’s President and CEO.

Clayton agrees: “The Lounge allows me and my friends to get away from the feeling of being in treatment.”

A Group with Unique Needs

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who at the opening ceremony for the Lounge.

At any given time, close to 700 teenagers and young adults ages 16 through 28 are undergoing diagnosis and treatment at MSK for leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, sarcoma, and other illnesses.

“This is a place that will provide patients with solace and interaction with their friends and ensure that they do well in the long run,” said Richard J. O’Reilly, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK.

Recognizing the need to improve the experience for this population, MSK leadership formed a task force in 2014 that included administrators, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and others. The team set up focus groups and informal surveys with clinicians, teens, and young adults to understand their unique wants and experiences.

The result was TYA  @  MSK, a multifaceted program designed to give older teen and young adult patients an expansive support system during active treatment.

Teen and Young Adult Program
The Teen and Young Adult Program gives patients between the ages of 16 and young adulthood a way to connect, hang out, and be themselves.
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“As if adolescence and early adulthood aren’t hard enough, a cancer diagnosis is enough to turn any young person’s already turbulent world upside down,” says Dr. O’Reilly.

“We expect the vast majority of teens and young adults to be cured,” adds Dr. Thompson, “but we also have to have them reentering society as survivors in every sense of the word.”

That’s where the kind of support offered by TYA  @  MSK can make such a difference.

A Program and a Place for Belonging

TYA  @  MSK helps patients connect, build community, and share information via:

  • The Lounge, an 800-square-foot space outfitted with the latest technology, comfortable furniture, a craft and work space, a graffiti wall, and a snack bar. It offers art projects, movie screenings, video games and tournaments, and a slew of other activities for patients and their guests.
  • Peer-2-Peer, a support program that connects TYA patients with cancer survivors who can share their experiences navigating MSK and being a young person with cancer.
  • The App, a safe and secure social network through which TYA patients can ask questions, connect with other patients and survivors, find resources, and keep up to date with events. It will be launched in fall 2016.

The Opening Event

Craig Thompson

MSK president and CEO Craig Thompson speaks at the opening of the Lounge.

On March 18, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who were on hand to formally open the Lounge.

“I am so proud to see this happen, for this age group,” said Mr. Daltrey. “When you look in the hospital system as it was, there was absolutely nothing for teenagers. They were too old to be treated as children but too young to be treated as adults — so they were completely isolated.”

The Lounge was made possible by a $1 million donation from Teen Cancer America, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Mr. Daltrey and Mr. Townshend that partners with hospitals throughout the United States to develop specialized facilities for teens and young adults with cancer. It joins similar programs at nine other hospital partners across the United States.

“It’s a very simple idea. It’s about making sure their hospital experience is as positive as possible, so their lives are interrupted as little as possible,” said Mr. Daltrey.