Janelle Lamontagne has intimate knowledge of the challenges facing young adults with cancer, both emotionally and financially.
The 31-year-old speech pathologist from Brandon has formed a support group to reach out to others in the city going through similar hardships.
"There’s a support group in Winnipeg, but that’s kind of hard to get to when you’re sick," she said. "There’s absolutely nothing in Brandon."
Lamontagne was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour in 2017 and underwent a 10-hour awake craniotomy followed by six weeks of radiation and 18 months of chemotherapy.
She now has MRIs every three months to monitor the cancer still in her brain.
Lamontagne only returned to work full-time at Brandon Regional Health Centre in April.
Like many other young adults with cancer, she faced financial challenges that older adults may not face, including a $1,000-a-month student loan, on top of the emotional challenges.
Fortunately for her, Lamontagne said, she had sick leave from the hospital and long-term disability to fall back on. She also has a number of friends who threw a fundraising social for her.
"A lot of people don’t have that," said Lamontagne, who is single.
"The city of Brandon was so amazingly supportive of me, and I have an incredible set of friends and family who supported me, but I still felt so incredibly isolated because I didn’t know a single other young person with cancer," she said, adding, "I know I’m not the only one in Brandon, but it’s hard to find that group."
While there are support groups for people with cancer in the city, they are either attended more by older people or do not focus on any particular cancer as some do in Winnipeg, Lamontagne said.
She and another person living with cancer in Brandon have started a support group for local young people with cancer called Stage Fivers. So far, she said, there are only the two of them, but they would like that to change.
Lamontagne is one of 15 so-called YACC-tivists across Canada, members of a non-profit organization called Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), which offers support and resources to those battling cancer.
Those who would like to join the Stage Fivers group can contact Lamontagne through her profile page on the YACC website (youngadultcancer.ca).
The St. John’s, N.L.-based organization offers web-based resources where young Canadians living with cancer can read articles and share their stories with others going through the same struggles, said YACC founder and executive director Geoff Eaton.
There are also more than 30 private Facebook groups for those with different forms of cancer.
YACC, which was launched by Eaton in 2000, also has eight Local Life groups across Canada, including one in Winnipeg, where those living with cancer get together regularly to mingle and relax.
Lamontagne said she has been to the one in Winnipeg, but hasn’t attracted enough people yet in Brandon to start one here.
YACC also hosts four-day retreats and conferences across Canada, including a survivor conference in Winnipeg next spring for the first time.
Well more than 100 young adult cancer survivors from across Manitoba and other parts of Canada are expected to attend the conference, Eaton, who battled leukemia as a young adult, said in a telephone interview.
"They’ll get this powerful connection experience, and that’s what YACC is all about."
YACC recently released a report that looks at the impact and intensity of issues facing young adults with cancer.
The Young Adults with Cancer in their Prime (YACPRIME) study was produced in collaboration with Dr. Sheila Garland, assistant professor of psychology and oncology at Memorial University. YACC surveyed 622 diagnosed young adults across Canada to explore the physical, social, financial, and emotional challenges they face as compared to their peers without cancer.
Every day, 22 Canadian young adults between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer, according to YACC.
"Many people see this age group as ‘too young to have cancer’ resulting in a massive lack of resources, from support to research," Eaton said.
The study found that one of the main issues facing young adults with cancer is the significant financial gaps between them and their peers without cancer, matched for age, gender and education.
For example, cancer patients are often unable to maintain full-time jobs during treatment and recovery. Nearly half missed between one and four-plus years of work, a major contributor to their financial hardships. Given that not all treatment costs are covered by health care in Canada, an extended leave from work makes paying $100 or more per month in cancer-related expenses even more difficult for 63 per cent of these young adults.
Young adult cancer survivors end up facing a variety of physical, social and mental issues, and report significantly worse quality of life compared to the Canadian population. The majority (84 per cent) experience significant levels of fear of cancer recurrence, 68 per cent have significant stress about their body image and 47 per cent experience significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, the study found.
"We hear the stories, we know about the struggles and the processes that they are using and the support programs we offer to help them move with, through and beyond the experience," Eaton said.
"It just has a different impact when you see you see the stats and the numbers."
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