Antwan Dixon and Lisa Hamman are two of many reasons Golisano Children’s Hospital started the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology program to provide cancer treatment for teenagers and young adults.

Antwan, a Fort Myers native and rising football star, collapsed while playing at Kent State. He was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.

In his first year at Florida State studying music and theater, Lisa was 22 when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

Unique Cancer Treatment for Teenagers and Young Adults

Each year, 70,000 teenagers and young adults are diagnosed with cancer. Research shows that teenagers and young adults have higher survival rates when treated as a pediatric patient rather than adult care.

“This is a really big change, going through a cancer diagnosis. These patients are kind of in that in-between period,” said Dr. April DePombo. A pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Dr. DePombo is leader of AYA for ages 15-29. “They are trying to go to school. Maybe they have young families, or they just started their first job. Maybe they’re in college, so this is a really large change.”

Lisa’s doctors decided a pediatric treatment was best for her. She was one of the first patients at the new Golisano Children’s Hospital. As a result, she is now 25 and cancer free, continuing her studies in music education at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Antwan, a former South Fort Myers High School receiver, missed the 2016 and 2017 football seasons at Kent State. He returned after a bone marrow transplant from his father in 2018. This year will be his senior year.

The AYA program is the only one within 135 miles and the only one regionally located in a children’s hospital. “It’s this in-between age group that kind of falls through the cracks usually, because they are not young children and they are not older adults. They also have some very special needs,” Dr. DePombo said.

Benefits of the AYA Program

Benefits of the AYA program include coordination of schoolwork, vocational education, fertility preservation, psychosocial care, insurance maintenance and individualized care.

With patients just beginning their adult lives, fertility preservation is one of the least prescribed but most valued parts of cancer care. “We talk about what it looks like to have their fertility preserved,” Dr. DePombo said.

Donations and insurance billing funds the program. Plans for the AYA program include creating scholarships for fertility preservation prior to treatment and educational needs after treatment.

Housed at Golisano Children’s Hospital, AYA offers specialized programs for patients, including psychology, psychiatry, a school liaison and an AYA lounge.

Philanthropy is helping us with a renovation that will provide these young adults with their own lounge on the unit – complete with high-tech gaming and video systems, and a coffee bar. We have playrooms with games and toys for the younger kids. We have a family room with a fridge for patients to bring home cooked meals and heat it up, a pinball machine, and cappuccino machine. You, our donors, helped build this unit to be not only a world-class hospital, but a home away from home for the hundreds of visits these families make each year to Golisano Children’s Hospital.

You can support this important program and other children with cancer by donating to Barbara’s Friends, Golisano Children’s Hospital cancer fund.