The UNC AYA Cancer Program provides age appropriate psychosocial and medical care for adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients and their support communities, advances research in the field of AYA oncology, educates providers about the unique needs of young people living with cancer, and improves care for AYAs across the state of North Carolina.
Formed in October 2015 due to the generous support of the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, The UNC AYA Cancer Program began with the hiring of Program Director, Lauren Lux, LCSW. From its inception, the program has been a part of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Support Program (CCSP). This robust and wide-ranging group of cancer support specialists is dedicated to helping patients and their loved ones with cancer treatment, recovery, and survivorship.
Through its history, the AYA Program has grown and found success through engaging providers and receiving support from across the multiple disciplines involved in AYA cancer care at UNC – Pediatric and Adult Oncology, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC Healthcare, Psychiatry, and Fertility. The team now includes three additional members: Andrew Smitherman, MD (Medical Director), Catherine Swift, LCSW (AYA Social Worker), and Melissa Matson, AGNP (AYA Nurse Practitioner). This multidimensional support speaks to UNC’s commitment to providing and leading in excellent AYA cancer care.
Be Loud! Sophie Foundation
The Be Loud! Sophie Foundation was founded to honor the life of Sophie Steiner, who was diagnosed with cancer as a high school freshman. Sophie received outstanding care throughout her time at UNC Hospitals, but she found there were aspects that were not tailored to adolescents and young adult patients. Well-intentioned staff brought her art carts and children’s toys, she wasn’t able to leave the floor without a lot of effort, and none of the things she wanted to keep doing – dance, yoga and photography – were easily available. With the help of her family and friends, Sophie was able to pursue many of her interests and cherish the time she had, but at the end of her life she expressed a wish to help other young cancer patients maintain their dignity, identity and independence in the face of this overwhelming illness. Her family established The Be Loud! Sophie Foundation for this purpose, named after a poem that Sophie had written, which includes the lines “Be loud / and move with grace / Explode with light / Have no Fear.”
The Be Loud! Sophie Foundation has been successful in large part because of an outpouring of community support. In addition to individual donations, many local businesses have organized fundraisers, a local music club, the Cat’s Cradle, has hosted annual benefit concerts featuring legendary local bands, and a Boy Scout troop calling themselves “Bike Loud” biked across the country to support the cause. Having worked closely with UNC Hospitals to launch the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) program in 2014, the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation funds the Program Director position and supports programming and events that are designed to help young people living with cancer be their full, inspiring and authentic selves.