Friends and Family (Planning) for Colorectal Cancer Patients
While the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center looks to provide answers and prevent future cases, it also serves as a source of information and assistance for current patients. With access to a series of ongoing events and resources, survivors like Morell — the mother of a toddler — can find understanding in the waiting room and the exam room.
Mary-Brent Brown, the center's research and program coordinator, is the go-to source for patients and families. Social worker Karen Fletcher, MSW, MPH, who specializes in the psychosocial needs of younger adults and their caregivers, leads a series of monthly brown-bag lunches for active and past patients. Started by her predecessor, Katelyn MacDougall, MSW, LICSW, as regular events held on Dana-Farber's Longwood campus, the lunches moved to Zoom at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past two years, the center has marked Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March) by hosting free educational events for patients and their loved ones. The 2021 series, held on Zoom over six March afternoons, featured a keynote event with Professor Ibram X. Kendi, a leader in antiracist research and a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. There were also sessions on living well, diet and exercise, and insights from a panel of research experts — moderated by Ng — on the latest clinical trials, microbiome research, and immunotherapy options. Attendees had the opportunity to make connections during breakout sessions and other online activities.
Such offerings have played a pivotal role for Thau in his treatment and recovery. He met with MacDougall during each of his 12 chemotherapy sessions at Dana-Farber from July to December 2019, and credits her for helping him feel more comfortable discussing his condition. Attending Fletcher's brown-bag lunches provides an opportunity to swap stories with people who can relate to his treatment side-effects, and his diagnosis prompted him to encourage his younger brother also get screened.
Thau's most advantageous moment at the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center, however, came early on.
"The center was incredibly helpful on the front end, helping me prepare for what I needed to do," Thau explains. "I was thinking about starting a future family with my wife, Lisbeth, and right away they told me they felt that chemo may potentially damage my sperm. So, before I even began treatment, I banked some sperm.
"Your head is spinning when you're that young and find out you have cancer," he adds. "But the more I learned about colorectal cancer, the more I saw how many people my age were getting it. That's why awareness and screening and other steps like family planning are so critical. This is a preventable disease."