Nfld. & Labrador

Young cancer patients connecting online with 'someone who gets it'

Hundreds of young adults across Canada affected by cancer — including current patients, survivors, and caregivers — are uniting online.

'You meet people that you never would have,' says Matt Ralph

A live webcast hosted by Young Adult Cancer Canada in St. John's connects young people with cancer to one another. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

Hundreds of young adults across Canada affected by cancer — including current patients, survivors, and caregivers — are uniting online.

On Saturday in St. John's, Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) held its third annual Big Cancer Hookup, a live webcast with events in 11 cities across the country.

The event, along with live-tweeting, means anyone from anywhere in the country can join the conversation and help connect.

Matt Ralph, 28, was one of four guests at this years' event in St. John's.

Matt Ralph found YACC when his cancer returned two years ago. He says the friendships he has formed are special and important. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

He was diagnosed with cancer at 22, but it wasn't until his cancer came back two years ago he found YACC, which he said changed his life.

"It started to hit me at that point, that there are a lot of issues that are really unique to my age group, like relationships and going back to school and finding a job with cancer, which are all daunting tasks that feel impossible," said Ralph.

"Through these programs you meet people that you never would have … you meet people from all walks of life, but having that shared experience they feel like family from the get-go and that sticks."

Ralph added having the ability to pick up a phone, send a message on Facebook or Twitter and connect with "someone who gets it" is a tremendous support.

But he added it's a support many young adults with cancer aren't aware of, so he's hoping sharing his experience helps spread the word.

Life changing

Geoff Eaton is the founder of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC). (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

YACC founder Geoff Eaton said the event is a vital one for young adults with cancer.

"The biggest issue for young adults when they're diagnosed with cancer is this idea of isolation," said Eaton.

"Most of us when we're diagnosed, we're the only ones in our peer group who has cancer, so finding another young adult that you can connect with, who totally gets what you're going through, is a really, really difficult challenge."

Eaton said the event, is a "fun, Jimmy Fallon-inspired webcast" complete with a couch for the guests.

It's an innovative way to bring young adults together and share their personal stories of living with cancer, Eaton said, as well as showing them they're not alone.

Various supports

YACC provides several web-based support programs that use social media, but there are also the more traditional supportive events like conferences and retreats.

Ultimately, Eaton said the goal is to get more young adults connected to the group's network, allow existing members to reconnect and hopefully get everyone more involved in activities and events.

"We have a mantra that guides our programs where we say, 'Any cancer, any stage, YACC's got your back,'" said Eaton.

"We aren't divided up by which part of you has cancer — we're divided up by what stage of life you're in when you get cancer."