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New Backpacks Hit the Spot For Young Adults With Cancer

Area twenty-somethings donate packs stuffed with cool gear to patients of the OHSU Cancer Institute Adolescent and Young Adult oncology program

When Dewey Burchell, 19, was being treated for testicular cancer, he really didn’t relate to the pediatric cancer patients or the older cancer patients he saw at the hospital. The things he likes to do - the whole stage of life he’s in - is different from younger and older patients.

This disconnect -- that young men and women with cancer have different needs -- is why a local group of 20-somethings formed the Hugh Howard Housen Memorial Foundation, (HHH). The group had been friends with Hugh Howard Hausen, who died at 25 of Ewings Sarcoma, a rare cancer.

 “Hugh was in his 20s and working for Nike in the golf division. He was leading an active life and then all of a sudden he was in the hospital being treated for cancer. We would talk to him and we realized his needs were different from other age groups with cancer. He wished he could have been around people his own age, and had more to do while in the hospital.  He was bored most of the time,” said Melinda Fidler, of the HHH Foundation. She also works for Nike as an associate producer for digital commerce.

In searching around for a way to help other young adults with cancer, they connected with the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) oncology program.

“It was a perfect focus for us,” said Fidler.

 The HHH group raised money and donations for something this age group could use - new backpacks stuffed with items such as puzzle books, stationery, stamps, gummy candy, fleece beanies with special pockets for their ear buds, hand-held electronic games, warm socks and one thing Hugh always liked -  Sour Patch Kids candy.

Burchell was the recipient of one of these packs. His new backpack sat on the window ledge in his hospital room at OHSU.  Burchell was busy was playing a game on his laptop computer. Posters of Jimi Hendrix, rock legend, and Falling Up, an Albany, Ore., alternative rock band, were taped to the wall behind his bed.

“I like the backpack. I’ll definitely use it,” he said.

Fidler hopes Burchell and others like him find the packs useful and give them something to do during their sometimes long hospital stays.

“Young adults with cancer have unique needs,” said Brandon Hayes-Lattin, M.D., medical director for the AYA Program. “These needs range from accessing quality cancer treatment, to addressing fertility concerns, to managing complex psychosocial situations with caregivers, parents, peers, children, school and work. These backpacks are one way of showing our young adult cancer patients that we realize their needs are different from other age groups’ concerns. Plus, these packs are pretty cool.”

Among diseases, cancer is the leading killer of young adults between the ages of 15 and 40. Each year, more than 70,000 young adults in their 20s and 30s are diagnosed with cancer - eight times more than in patients under 15 years old. The age group has not seen survival rates increase as other age groups have. The AYA program was created to provide care and support to patients in this age group who are diagnosed and treated for cancer.

The program includes education and outreach, clinical research, informatics, and clinical care. In addition to disease-specific expertise, the AYA program provides resources specific for the AYA population, including fertility preservation information, activity and exercise guidelines, genetic counseling referrals, and, most importantly, a community to meet other AYA patients facing cancer.

For more information or to donate to the HHH Foundation please visit

About the OHSU Cancer Institute
The OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 200 clinical researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better lives for Oregon's cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more than 300 clinical trials conducted at the OHSU Cancer Institute.

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

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