We partner with UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to address the unique needs of adolescent and young adults (AYAs) facing cancer. In 2015, this collaboration established UNC’s AYA Program as one of the first in the country with this focus.
As part of this partnership, we fund the position of the program director Lauren Lux and when we began, this was the sole position. Because of the program’s impact and value, all subsequent positions have been picked up Lineberger, other units or are self-funded.
We are thrilled that the AYA Team now has seven members providing unprecedented support to 13- to 39-year-olds at UNC living with cancer, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive AYA programs in the country. This dedicated program team provides:
- One-on-one support and counseling
- AYA-specific resources around finances, work, school and emotional support
- Recommendations for clinical trials and treatment protocols
- AYA survivorship care
- Help with issues like fertility preservation, sexual health and function and contraception
- Care coordination and connection to other UNC cancer support services
- Programs and events for patients
- Connections with other AYAs
Below is a description of what all these extraordinary people do.
Lauren Lux, LCSW (Program Director since 2015) provides direct care to 13- to 18-year-old active patients and 13- to 39-year-old survivors. Additionally, as director, she sets and executes program priorities at UNC across three spheres: clinical care, research, and education/outreach. Finally, Lauren provides national leadership to set standards and formalize the AYA field.
Andrew “Smitty” Smitherman, MD (Medical Director since 2017) divides his time between conducting research on the aging effects of cancer treatment, caring for patients and survivors, and teaching/mentoring medical students, residents, and fellows. Along with Lauren, Melissa, and Catherine, he cares for survivors in the innovative UNC AYA Survivorship Clinic that he and Lauren created to support the transition from active therapy to survivorship by addressing patients’ long-term medical and emotional needs.
Catherine Swift, LCSWA (AYA Social Worker since 2019) provides psychosocial care to 19- to 39-year-olds, seeing them from new diagnosis through end-of-treatment or end-of-life. In this role, she serves as a vital bridge between these young adults and their medical team. Catherine is also involved in research efforts to help cancer patients who are parents of young children.
Jordan Lodato Hunt, LCSW, (Fertility Preservation Coordinator since 2019) concentrates on fertility preservation. She meets with every newly diagnosed patient to discuss options and costs related to preserving their fertility, and she guides people through this long and complicated process. Jordan is the only person at UNC who exclusively focuses on supporting patients with cancer and other conditions that may impact fertility, and her position is the result of a collaboration between the Lineberger Cancer Center and the Ob/Gyn Department.
Melissa Matson, AGNP MSN, RN (AYA Nurse Practitioner since 2020) provides medical care to 13- to 39-year-olds. She begins with an assessment of their most critical needs and shares that with the entire medical team. When Covid hit, she began conducting these individualized assessments via video, which proved to be so effective at reaching patients traditionally underserved by the medical system that she plans to continue this practice. Melissa also screens AYA patients for clinical trial eligibility and helps enroll them in trials regardless of where they are being treated.
Julie Childers, MD, PhD, (Young Adult Palliative Care Physician since 2021) is a pediatrician who, while doing a Palliative Care Fellowship at UNC, met the AYA Team and worked with them to launch the AYA Palliative Care Sarcoma Collaborative. She now spends one day a week with the AYA Team focusing on patient-centered quality-of-life and end-of-life care.
Dan Kleissler, BA (AYA Clinical Research Associate since 2021) joined the team after graduating from UNC in May. He supports the team’s creation of the AYA Cancer Registry, a groundbreaking effort to collect longitudinal data from patients at UNC. This data will support Dr. Smitherman’s work on accelerated aging among survivors and will be a valuable resource to AYA-focused cancer studies conducted by other researchers at UNC and beyond.
To learn more about this extraordinary AYA program, please visit uncaya.org