Take Charge

When Fighting Cancer, Age Isn’t Just a Number

March 29, 2018

AYA-Lounge-Awareness.jpg The AYA Lounge is the first of its kind in Florida.

By Sara Bondell

Anthony Bruno was feeling uncomfortable.

He was on his way to Moffitt Cancer Center for the first time in years and during the drive an eerie, all too familiar feeling crept in.

"That awkward feeling where you are going back somewhere that had such an impact on your life," said Bruno.

The feeling took him back to 2011, when at just 27 years old Bruno was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. The diagnosis was a huge blow, coming right before a big promotion at work.

"At my age I was trying to work on building my career at the time and then I got blindsided and I just kind of felt like I was lost. I didn’t know, at that time, how was I going to bounce back?"

Dr. Damon Reed
Dr. Damon Reed

It’s a feeling many adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients experience. They’re dealing with their cancer diagnosis while juggling relationships, careers and in some cases raising young children. It’s what inspired oncologist Dr. Damon Reed to create Moffitt’s AYA Program, serving patients up to age 39 with any type of cancer. Moffitt sees around 125 AYA patients on any given day and those patients have a range of age-specific needs.

"They need to understand how their diagnosis and treatment could affect their sexuality and fertility," said Reed. "They need more time with social workers and psychologists to help walk them through the financial realities and help them emotionally process delays in their life trajectory."

In 2015, Moffitt’s AYA Lounge opened on the hospital’s fourth floor. It’s the first of its kind in Florida - more of a dormitory common area than hospital room - and offers a space for hanging out, playing games and watching movies.

The program also sponsors external social events like miniature golf, bowling and dinners. It’s that sense of belonging that Bruno, who was treated at Moffitt before the lounge opened, says he longed for during his cancer journey. It was often difficult to find people his own age who could relate to what he was going through. 

"There needs to be somewhere where we can communicate with each other," said Bruno. "There are a lot of things I am not going to tell some people. If I am having some dark moments, I am not going to tell the doctor, but I may tell people who are where I am at."

Bruno says the AYA program can also help with life after cancer. Without a strong peer support system, he says he struggled going back to his old life.

"I was lost," he said. "I didn’t know what to do with my life. It was an uncomfortable feeling and you don’t have a lot of people to talk about it to."

Ultimately, Bruno decided to go back to school. He earned a degree from Temple University and landed a career in the film industry, working with thriller director M. Night Shyamalan and later on shows like Orange is the New Black and Kevin Can Wait.

Now he has returned to Moffitt to participate in part of this year’s AYA Awareness Week, putting aside that uncomfortable feeling to help give the support Bruno knows firsthand young cancer patients need.

AYA Lounge
AYA Lounge

Moffitt is observing the AYA Awareness Week from April 2-6 with events around the hospital:

Monday, April 2

10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Gold Valet lobby

What is AYA? Find out more with an AYA committee team member. Light refreshments will be served.                        

6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Brio Tuscan Grille, International Plaza

Interested in mentoring or connecting with a cancer survivor one-on-one? Learn more about providing and receiving support within the cancer community with guest speaker Eric Charsky, Imerman Angels Ambassador, at our monthly networking dinner.

Brio Tuscan Grille, International Plaza
2223 North Westshore Boulevard
Tampa, Fla. 

Tuesday, April 3

10 a.m.–12 p.m.: Gold Valet Lobby

Message Exchange: Take one for inspiration, share one for motivation! Share anonymous positive messages with an AYA patient, survivor or caregiver.

12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m.: AYA Lounge 4th Floor

AYA Lounge and Learn

Learn more about the AYA Lounge and programs for AYA patients & survivors.    

Wednesday, April 4

10 a.m. – 12 p.m.: McKinley Lobby

Message Exchange: Take one for inspiration, share one for motivation! Share anonymous positive messages with an AYA patient, survivor or caregiver.

Thursday, April 5

10 a.m. -12 p.m.: Gold Valet Lobby

Message Exchange & AYA Swag giveaway.

12:45 p.m.-1:45 p.m.: Owl’s Den

AYA Lunch and Learn – Learn more about AYA support services and how you can get involved. Lunch will be provided.

Friday, April 6

10 a.m.- 12 p.m.: Gold Valet Lobby

AYA Lemonade Stand – Light refreshments will be served