Cancer: study examines mental health impacts for young adults who battled disease

New research finds a staggering number of adult cancer survivors showed significantly worse mental health compared to their peers who did not battle the disease.

The study was conducted in partnership with Young Adults with Cancer in their Prime (YAC Prime) and Dr. Sheila Garland from Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It surveyed 622 diagnosed young adults across Canada to explore the physical, social, financial and emotional challenges they face compared to those without cancer.

It found 50 per cent of young adult cancer survivors who are six or more years post-treatment showed significantly worse mental health compared to just nine per cent of their peers without cancer.

Nick Evans knows this reality all too well.

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2009 when he was 21 years old. He underwent an orchiectomy, removing one of his testicles. From there, no further treatments were needed, and he could seem to return to normal life, but it was not so simple.

“My life had been shattered. It sent a ripple through all the relationships, for my loved ones and friends, and I was kind of left on my own to put the pieces back together,” Evans recalled in an interview with CTV Morning Live Winnipeg on Thursday.

Ten years later, his cancer relapsed and he had his other testicle removed. He was declared in remission.

However, many of the feelings from his first diagnosis came back. He said he reached a breaking point about two years later, knowing something was horribly wrong.

Evans contacted CancerCare Manitoba, who eventually linked him up with YAC Prime.

“Once I was introduced to YAC, that changed everything. The validation of my own cancer experience from peers was the only remedy that kind of took the pressure off of living in this crippling depression, of ‘is it going to come back?’” he said.

The study’s findings mirror Evans’ experience.

Research showed those who feel connected to a young adult cancer community have lower levels of distress, fewer body image issues, and see a positive effect on emotions and behavior, plus better overall mental health compared to those who are not involved with such a community.

He said YAC continues to play a pivotal role in his life as he deals with the ongoing stress of a relapse.

“To know that there’s this huge community out there of people asking the same questions really helped me with recovery,” he said.

– With files from CTV’s Joey Slattery