Who We Are
We are healthcare providers, researchers, and advocates dedicated to improving cancer care and outcomes for AYAs with cancer.
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.
The core AYA team is made up of 7 providers. We are a consult service – this means that we work with your primary cancer team to make sure you receive age appropriate medical and psychosocial care. Each provider brings with them a unique perspective:
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.
Between 2015 and 2020, the AYA Program went through a period of rapid growth as it 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 recruited multiple members in that time, each with a unique perspective on the needs of AYA patients: Andrew Smitherman, MD (Medical Director), Catherine Swift, LCSW (AYA Social Worker), and Melissa Matson, AGNP (AYA Nurse Practitioner).
In 2021, with growing resources and an exciting vision for the future, the team expanded as it looked to address the specialized needs of AYA patients. Three new members joined during this time: Jordan Lodato Hunt (fertility specialist), Julie Childers (palliative care physician), and Dan Kleissler (clinical research associate). As the program continues to develop and provide support in specialized areas, focus has not been lost on larger scale multidisciplinary collaborations. Exciting initiatives such as the AYA Clinical Working Group, AYA Palliative Care Sarcoma Collaboration, AYA Multidisciplinary Summit, and the AYA Tumor Board are a few examples of the AYA Program’s promotion of cross-discipline collaboration. This multidimensional support speaks to UNC’s commitment to providing and leading in excellent AYA cancer care.
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.