The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Program at Children’s Hospital Enjoys a Weekend Off from Cancer

By Peter Shaw, MD, clinical director of Oncology, and director, Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Program, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

shawWe recognized 10 years ago that oncology and bone marrow transplant patients ages 15 and older require special services that younger patients do not need. In addition to the great patient- and family-centered care they receive at Children’s Hospital Pittsburgh of UPMC, we wanted to improve the quality of life for these unique patients.

One way we have accomplished this is by creating the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Program, a peer-based support system for these young adults, within the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. We learned from experience and from reviewing the literature that sit-down support groups themselves are an artificial and usually ineffective way of having these patients connect with each other. Because of this, since 2005, we have been taking up to 30 of our patients, ages 15 to 20, on free, weekend-long trips away from their families and the hospital. Since then, we have enjoyed 11 trips in 11 years, with the most recent one the weekend of Jan. 9 to Seven Springs Mountain Resort.  The young adults and chaperones enjoyed all the resort had to offer; skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, the spa, the pool, arcade, the bowling alley, and lots of food! Some teens who had never skied or snowboarded before took lessons and were hooked on these sports.

The most amazing part of the trip, however, is the friendships that form and the old ones127 that grow stronger. As a chaperone for every trip, I have the unique privilege of spending time with these amazing young and courageous people for three days. They (and we) play games, watch movies, and just hang out away from the medical, school, and home environment.

As always, this trip was a huge hit with most attendees informing me they want to go back as soon as possible. Others who are going to be over 21 have asked to come back as “junior chaperones.” Needless to say, everyone has an amazing time and it is over way too fast.

But have no fear! The next “Weekend Off From Cancer” is less than a year away!

098In the meantime, we have other AYA get-togethers such as Pittsburgh Pirates games and painting classes. Many of our attendees can’t wait until the next event so they text, talk, and go out to dinner on their own. We feel that with so many patients doing this and wanting to come back year after year, we know that we are doing something right.

If you are interested in supporting these trips and other AYA programming, please contact Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation at and direct your donation to the AYA Oncology Fund.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!