Last week, I said goodbye to a former classmate and childhood friend. Less than two years ago, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. At the time of his death, the cancer had spread to other parts of his body, including the lymph nodes and spine.
He was only 36.
A little more than a year ago, another former classmate succumbed to cancer, which also had metastasized.
During that time, a cousin, who also attended my school, was fighting breast cancer. Thankfully, she is winning the battle.
Although we understand we are mere mortals and that life is unpredictable, we oftentimes forget that cancer claims young people.
An old friend said at our fellow classmate's funeral last week, "We're too young for this."
But we know that cancer can happen at any age, within any ethnicity and regardless of socioeconomic status. Cancer awareness advocates and survivors have said it many times before: Everyone is affected by cancer in some way. It's one of the ties that bind us all.
For young people, though, it's easy for them to feel left in the shadows. Young adults have just begun their lives. They are optimistic about the future.
Cancer is the dark and ugly occurrence they did not expect to face.
They feel isolated. While friends are socializing, nurturing careers and starting families, they must deal with appointments, chemotherapy and financial fallout from medical bills.
Luckily for my classmates, we grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other. So, there was support — fundraisers and online vigils — to uplift those who were ill.
Young cancer patients are in another unique situation: According to the National Cancer Institute, survival rates for 15- to 39-year-olds with cancer have not improved in 30 years.
The Institute lists several possible factors for this, including "unique psychosocial and supportive care needs" and "inadequate access to clinical trials and low rates of participation."
But there have been improvements in younger and older age groups. The greatest improvements in cancer treatments in the past 20 years have been in childhood cancers, according to NCI.
It's no surprise because "more than 90 percent of children younger than 5 who are diagnosed with cancer participate in clinical trials," the institute states on its website.
Right now, the American Cancer Society is recruiting people ages 30 to 65 for its Cancer Prevention Study 3. It's a large nationwide study that could help researchers unlock clues about cancer. Here's a chance for 30-somethings to make a difference.
Give your time to science so we may improve the outcomes for young cancer patients. And if you know of a young person dealing with cancer, be a support or a source of encouragement.
For more information about the Cancer Prevention Study 3, visit cancerstudytx.org.
Dealing with cancer at a young age? Visit stupidcancer.org for ways to connect with others who have similar experiences.