As a two-time young adult survivor (diagnosed at 21 and 23), I had a tough time – socially, physically and emotionally – after treatment ended. While everyone thought I should just be celebrating the fact that I was still here, I struggled with the aftermath: a different body from the one I had started with, total uncertainty about my future, and brand new priorities and perspective. On a practical level, though, I was incredibly lucky. I had the support of my family and help from my friends as I transitioned out of treatment and back into real life. I didn’t have stacks of medical bills because my mom put all of her energy into battling our insurance company. I interviewed for my first post-college (and post-cancer) job over the phone, and I moved in with a friend who was looking for a roommate. But the more young adult survivors I met, the more acutely aware I became that not everyone has such an easy transition.
Most have tens of thousands of dollars – if not more – in residual medical bills, with bill collectors calling almost every day. Prescription and follow-up visit co-pays can run hundreds of dollars each month, sometimes becoming so cost-prohibitive that young adults forego medications or doctor’s appointments altogether. And with a gap on their résumés in an already challenging workforce, job prospects are low. On top of the lifechanging experience that is cancer, young adults are left at a huge disadvantage when it comes to integrating back into the real world.
So, in 2003, I co-founded Surviving And Moving Forward: The SAMFund for Young Adult Survivors of Cancer, specifically designed to support young adults as they get back on their feet after treatment. All of The SAMFund’s current and upcoming programs are aimed at creating a tight-knit community of young adult survivors which, in turn, will more holistically address the unique needs of young adult cancer survivors as they continue to strive to reach their goals. We began with a unique financial assistance program and have grown to include a Survivors’ Network as well as an upcoming Webinar series which will target specific issues such as negotiating down medical debt, learning to budget and finding resources for financial assistance. Ultimately, it’s our goal to help young adults regain their financial independence and reclaim control over their physical, mental and emotional health and continued wellness – so they can not only survive, but truly move forward.
This past year has been an exciting one for us. Not only did we award $105,000 in grants to more than 70 young adults (bringing our running total to over $600,000 since 2005!), but we also expanded our Survivors’ Network with help from our grant recipients, created a blog, and received a grant to launch our Webinar series in early 2011.Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon…so stay tuned!
Samantha Eisenstein Watson, MBA
Executive Director & Co-Founder