Thanks in part to a generous grant from a national nonprofit founded by two acclaimed musicians, University Health officially dedicated the region’s first comprehensive AYA Cancer Program on September 24, 2019. AYA stands for adolescent and young adults, and the goal of this program is to improve care and outcomes for this group of cancer patients who, statistics show, don’t fare as well as young children or older adults.
“University Hospital recognized the unique needs of this age group and we responded by assembling a dedicated medical team and one of the largest inpatient units for adolescent and young adult cancer patients in Texas,” said University Hospital Administrator Mike Roussos.
To enhance the experience for this special group of patients, Teen Cancer America, a national nonprofit founded by musicians Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, partnered with the University Health Foundation and other local donors to fund a beautiful AYA lounge.
The lounge was designed with suggestions from AYA patients and includes a large TV, reading nook and snack bar. The setting allows patients to share experiences and escape the isolation of their hospital rooms. Two guitars add to the “cool” factor. One is signed by Daltrey and Townshend, the other is a replica of the guitar owned by rock legend Buddy Holly.
In selecting University Health for this award, Executive Director of Teen Cancer America Simon Davies highlighted University Health’s strong roots in the community. “We have been so impressed with their dedication to oncology and their specialized Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program, combined with strong engagement of local groups and communities in this initiative,” Davies said at the dedication ceremony.
A big supporter of Teen Cancer America is Maria Elena Holly, widow of Buddy Holly and co-founder of the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. Mrs. Holly made a special appearance at the event and personally presented the replica guitar to the University Health AYA team.
“In addition to the guitars and the new lounge, these funds are also going to help us shorten the timeline on improving quality of life and outcomes for teens and young adults with cancer here in South Texas,” said Dr. Allison Grimes, director of the AYA Cancer Program and assistant professor of Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology at UT Health San Antonio.
Cancer patients in this age group, 15 to 39, have experienced lower survival gains in recent decades, Grimes said. According to the National Cancer Institute, AYA patients often face delayed access to care, in part because of financial needs or lack of insurance. They are also less likely to participate in clinical trials, so there isn’t enough research data related to their specific conditions.
“This generous grant helps us to build on the resources and specialized care needed in our community,” Roussos said. A new social worker helps fill some of the gaps by assessing the psychosocial needs of the patients and family, then connecting them with resources that can include financial assistance, transportation or emotional counseling. And the new navigator helps patients from diagnosis through treatment, assisting with medical referrals and services that may include fertility preservation and access to clinical trials.