AYA Cancer Awareness Month: Behavioral Scientist Spotlight

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Alexandra Psihogios headshot Alexandra Psihogios, PhD, clinical psychologist and behavioral scientist in the Division of Oncology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), is focused on helping adolescents and young adults (AYA) stay motivated and engaged with taking cancer-related medications, often through the use of digital health tools such as apps and texting. In honor of AYA Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Psihogios explains the important and unique resources that are tailored to meet the needs of AYA patients at CHOP.

Q. How does cancer treatment and care differ for our AYA patients vs. their younger counterparts?

A. One thing that makes AYA cancer patients different from younger patients is that they often know the ins and outs of what is happening with their cancer. This can be a difficult and positive thing — understanding the gravity of cancer can be incredibly stressful and anxiety-provoking. At the same time, this understanding provides AYA patients with more power over their experiences. AYAs can learn about their medications so they can reap the benefits of greater independence. They can tell us what is bothering them and get more support. AYAs can participate in treatment choices. They can tell us what is important to them outside of the Cancer Center so we can help them do as much of that thing as possible.

Q. What are some of the challenges that AYA cancer patients face?

A. One challenge AYAs face is difficulties with taking many, many cancer-related medications. It would be hard for anyone! But AYA patients have some unique hurdles to overcome as they are often learning how to be more independent with managing their own health. Some things that can get in the way of taking medications include nasty side effects, sleeping through doses, forgetting when away from home or with friends, or that the medication itself has become an uncomfortable reminder of cancer. If this sounds familiar, here are some tips/tricks that can help.

Q. What are some of the unique resources we provide our AYAs?

A. We have a very comprehensive list of AYA resources online (including my personal favorite, the AYA podcast — for AYA by AYA). At CHOP, we also have a very active program of research focused on helping AYAs thrive — physically and psychologically — during cancer and beyond. Many AYAs have participated in these studies (including my own study, thank you!), and their contributions have truly shaped the programs/resources we offer and helped the next generation of patients.