The Program

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 by Lineberger, other units or are self-funded.

Unprecedented support

We are thrilled that the AYA Team provides 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

The AYA Team

Here’s what these extraordinary people do.

To learn more about the AYA program, please visit

Lauren Lux, LCSW

Program Director since 2015

Lauren Lux (she/her) directs the AYA Oncology Program at UNC. Her work as Program Director focuses on patient care, psychosocial research, programming, provider education, quality improvement, and advocacy. Along with her fabulous partners, she leads efforts to improve care for AYAs around the state of North Carolina and is involved in the advancement of the AYA oncology field in the United States. She has worked as a clinical social worker in the field of oncology throughout her career and her clinical practice and program work is inspired and informed by the incredible young people she meets every day.

Andrew “Smitty” Smitherman, MD

Medical Director since 2017

Andrew “Smitty” Smitherman (he/him) focuses his research and clinical effort on improving cancer care for adolescents and young adults as well as survivors of childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer. His work to date has examined the patterns of health care usage among survivors to characterize emerging chronic treatment-related morbidities. Building on this experience, he is currently studying the use biomarkers of aging for the early identification of the treatment-related morbidities as well as factors associated with clinical trial enrollment among AYAs.

Catherine Swift, LCSW

AYA social worker since 2019

Catherine Swift (she/her), LCSW, provides direct patient care for the AYA population, acting as a counselor, advocate, and support services coordinator for teens and young adults. She also works with young parents facing advanced cancer as a research study interventionist. With a background in narrative medicine, religious studies, and palliative care, she is passionate about helping AYAs navigate the complex roles and identities they inhabit as young people, cancer patients, and so much more.

Jordan Lodato Hunt, LCSW

Fertility Preservation Coordinator since 2019

Jordan Lodato Hunt (she/her) oversees the fertility preservation program. She meets with every newly diagnosed AYA patient to discuss how cancer treatment might impact their fertility, as well as the options available to preserve fertility, if desired. Jordan is available to provide supportive counseling throughout the fertility preservation process – before, during, or after cancer treatment. Jordan is the only person at UNC who exclusively focuses on supporting patients living with 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

As the AYA Nurse Practitioner, Melissa (she/her) brings years of experience caring for folks with cancer in both the inpatient and outpatient setting, first as a staff nurse, then nurse navigator, and now nurse practitioner. During that time, she has developed a passion for helping meet the unique needs of young adults whose lives have been interrupted by cancer. In her role as AYA Nurse Practitioner, Melissa focuses on: enrollment of AYAs onto clinical trials, AYA Survivorship Care, and running the AYA multidisciplinary consult service.

Julie Childers, MD, PhD

Young Adult Palliative Care Physician since 2021

Julie S. W. Chiders (she/her), MD PhD is a palliative care physician who focuses on complex symptom management, helping to understand a prognosis, and navigating difficult conversations and decisions. She helped to establish the Palliative Care Sarcoma Collaborative, a collaboration among medical oncology, social work, and palliative care teams geared toward providing the best possible care to young adults with sarcoma. Her goal is to ensure that our young adult patients receive the cancer care that is best aligned with their goals and values at every point in their illness trajectory regardless of prognosis.

Jacob Stein, MD, MPH

AYA Oncology Liaison since 2022

Jacob Stein (he/him) is a medical oncologist caring for patients with sarcoma and a health services researcher focused on improving cancer care delivery and equity. As AYA Oncology Liaison, he helps lead the Palliative Care Sarcoma Collaborative alongside Dr. Childers, leverages his outcomes research experience to study the effects of the UNC AYA Cancer Program, and advises on AYA quality improvement efforts. Additionally, he serves as a resource to represent the needs of AYAs within the Division of Oncology.

Emily Haines, PhD

Research Director since 2023

Emily Haines (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Implementation Science at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Member of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Haines is also Research Director for the AYA Cancer Program at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research is at the intersection of implementation science and cancer care delivery, with a focus on AYA oncology. Much of her work focuses on improving care delivery and equity for AYAs through the user-centered development and implementation of interventions to coordinate multidisciplinary services and resources which address AYAs’ physical, psychosocial, and practical needs.

Aspen Yordy, MS, CCLS

AYA Clinical Research Associate since 2023

Throughout her career, Aspen Yordy (she/her) has dedicated herself to improving the lives of young people. As a former elementary school teacher in Durham Public Schools and an adjunct professor in the UNC School of Education, Aspen has formed a foundational understanding of how access to education and support can be pivotal to quality of life. Additionally, as a former child life specialist on the pediatric inpatient oncology unit at UNC Children’s Hospital, Aspen has witnessed firsthand the impact of serious illness on patients and their families. Now, as the AYA research coordinator, Aspen hopes to broaden her influence on patients and families by assisting in research that can impact AYA care delivery. Aspen lives in Durham with her husband, dog, and chickens.

Alison (Ali) Manikowski, PsyD

Pediatric Psychologist since 2023

Ali Manikowski (she/her) is a licensed psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics. In her role with the UNC AYA program, Ali provides both inpatient and outpatient therapeutic services for children and adolescents with cancer, specifically providing patient-centered care and brief problem-focused interventions related to adjustment to diagnosis and adaptive coping throughout treatment. She came to UNC from WakeMed in Raleigh, N.C., and prior to that, completed her postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology at Emory University School of Medicine at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in their Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. In her free time, Ali enjoys spending time with her family including her husband, toddler, and dog.

Hannah Winslow, MSW, MPH

AYA Project Manager since 2024

Hannah Winslow (she/her) is a social worker and public health professional invested in improving the lives of adolescents and young adults. As the Project Manager for the AYA Cancer Program, Hannah helps advance the efforts, initiatives, and research of the AYA program and team. Her previous role at UNC saw her develop and deliver comprehensive wellness programming, alongside providing one-on-one support to undergraduate students. Prior to that, she worked in youth development research focused on the wellbeing of young people and their families. Now, in this role, Hannah is excited to be engaged in both research and broader program delivery, grounded in positively impacting AYA care and outcomes. In her free time, Hannah enjoys painting, hiking, and spending time with her fiancé and fiercely stubborn weenie dog, Sweet Lou.

The UNC AYA Program gave me hope and the realization that there was indeed deep care and concern for how AYAs specifically navigate life with cancer. I would’ve had a lonelier experience dealing with breast cancer, but the AYA program provided me opportunities to connect with other AYAs through social events, including random dinners, hangouts, and a rock climbing trip, and opportunities to speak about our needs and challenges to the larger community.

–Christina Best, Former Patient