By Anne Katz, PhD, RN, FAAN
Cancer is possible at any age, however it is most common in the fifth and sixth decades of life. Many of us think of ourselves as caring for adult patients (unless you’re a pediatric nurse) and lump everyone into the same life stage, irrespective of the actual age of our patients. Increasingly, we are saying older adults (age 70+) and younger adults in the hospitals, ambulatory clinics, and infusion centers where we work. But how much do we really know about the specific life span milestones of older and younger adults with cancer?
This year at Congress, we have a preconference session called “Cancer at the Two Ends of the Life Span.” It will address the unique characteristics of older and younger adults with cancer. Each and every patient experiences their cancer in the context of their age, developmental stage, biology, and psychosocial influences. You will learn about the unique challenges facing young adults who experience an acute interruption of their life with little or no experience of illness. College plans have to change very quickly, hopes for family building suddenly become tenuous, and for those with young children, the stability of the family is threatened. Older adults experience their illness in the unique context of being older with comorbidities complicating cancer treatment, and perhaps living with the loss of spouse/partner and facing illness alone and far from adult children. Older adults may have already lost some of their friends to illness and now live with a much smaller support system.
After attending the session, you will see your younger and older patients through a new lens, enabling you to provide person-centered care in a sensitive and caring way.