LAYTON, Utah – Being diagnosed with cancer is traumatic at any age, but it can be especially difficult for adolescents and young adults who finish school, choose a career, or start a family.
A Layton woman has found support through a special program.
For Nayeli Gomez, painting is her favorite way to relieve stress.
“You can make a mistake and find out that it actually looks better,” she explained. “Sometimes they aren’t great paintings, but they make me happy.”
Unfortunately, she experienced a lot of extra stress during the pandemic because of the challenging experience she finds herself in.
“Well, I found a lump in my chest myself,” she said. “I’m 34. I have no history of family cancer … my thought was, ‘My mother can’t bury her only daughter.’ ”
Gomez was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer on May 21, and now she faces fears she never expected, such as her ability to have children after chemotherapy.
‘I don’t have any children yet. I feel like I didn’t really start my life, ”she explained. “I was faced with a decision that I had to take far too quickly. Do I have to freeze my eggs? And I couldn’t. I couldn’t afford … It’s a scary thought. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. “
Gomez also has a dream of going back to school to become a physician assistant. “But I don’t know if I can do that right now, because chemo brain is a very real problem,” she said.
Gomez said she also lost her job while undergoing treatment. She has found a new job, but can only work part-time to keep up with her treatment schedule and because she often doesn’t feel well.
Dr. David Gill, an oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare, said cancer can disrupt big milestones and create professional challenges.
“You may have to take a year off from college, or you may have to take Friday off from work to get your chemotherapy drip, (or) maybe you get passed over for a raise and wonder, ‘Is it partially too due to my treatment? ‘”he described.
Gill said patients aged 15-39 are the most disadvantaged cancer population, often with little financial support. “So whether that’s an uninsured or underinsured patient status,” he explained.
Through the Huntsman Intermountain Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program, or HIAYA, Gomez has found help.
“When I was unemployed, they put me in touch with people who could answer my questions about, ‘What am I submitting? Where do I have to go? Gomez said.
She’s also connected with others through the Facebook support group who sympathized with Gomez when she was in severe pain or needed advice on how to treat a chemo burn.
“It’s really nice to have someone else who is going through the same thing and who can both get help and know that your terrible experience can help someone else,” she said.
Gomez is also grateful for the professional help she has received from patient navigators trained in cancer care, fertility preservation, and family building.
“But could call or text her and just say, ‘I’m hurting,’” Gomez said. “It’s been great.”
Gill said that through a combination of contributions from charities willing to help with the financial costs of fertility preservation and insurance coverage, HIAYA helps patients plan for their futures. “Some of the treatments we give, including chemotherapy, can cause infertility, so fertility counseling is extremely important,” he said. “Building a family is an important part of the lives of many of our patients.”
He said going through this experience at such a young age can be isolating. “Your friends and those around you don’t have the same challenges,” said Gill. “Anxiety and depression are really the norm after going through something like this, so it’s incredibly important to make those resources available.”
While Gomez feels she benefited more from the support group than contributed, Gill said otherwise. “It was great to watch her,” he said. “She has helped many other people on their journey to cancer. She is very selfless. “
At the moment, the group is coming together through virtual social events, but when it’s safe to get back together, Gill said they plan to get back together for in-person social events like escape rooms, ax throwing or Top Golf.
Gomez reminds other cancer patients that there is hope. She said her last scan was clear, though she’s really looking forward to the day her doctor tells her she’s completely cancer-free. Gomez is so grateful to her friend and her family for offering their unconditional support as well.
She urges others to put their needs first and seek help.
“The most important thing is to stand up for yourself,” said Gomez.
The HIAYA program is free and available to cancer patients aged 15-39, regardless of who their healthcare provider is. Visit her GoFundMe * page to support Gomez on her journey to cancer.
* KSLTV.com does not guarantee that the money deposited into the account will be used for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering making a deposit into the account, you should consult your own advisers, otherwise proceed at your own risk.