MONTREAL — They might be called the forgotten generation in the war on cancer. Geoff Eaton certainly thinks so.
British singer Melanie C, who was a member of the pop group The Spice Girls, performs at the Denim & Diamonds gala in support of Hope & Cope. [Howard Kay photo]
They are the older teens and young adults with cancer, whose
survival rates have not kept pace with the improved outcomes seen in
children and older adults. In fact, their prognosis remains no better
than it was in the 1970s, he says.
Eaton is a lucky one. He’s still around 10 years after first contracting acute myeloid leukemia at age 22.
Eaton was the recipient of one of the three inaugural Hope Awards from the Young Adult Division of Hope & Cope, a program based at the Jewish General Hospital that helps patients and loved ones cope with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The number of Canadians aged 15 to 30 being diagnosed with cancer is increasing, and reached 6,500 last year, said Eaton, who founded Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) in 2000 to advocate and act as a resource for this age group.
The St. John’s, Nfld., resident said having cancer in late adolescence and early adulthood is different than getting it at other times, because that’s the stage of life when people are planning their future – they are concerned with establishing careers, forming relationships or starting a family. Yet, attention to the emotional and psychological challenges specific to this age group are lacking, he said.
One notable exception in Canada is Hope & Cope, which is a sponsor of YACC’s annual five-day retreat for young adults, dubbed Retreat Yourself, and its web-based community of young cancer patients and survivors, as well as offering an array of its own services tailored to the needs of this population.
The awards were presented at the seventh annual Denim & Diamonds bash attended by more than 800 people, mostly under age 50, which raised $350,000 for Hope & Cope’s services to young adults. The glitzy gala is so named because guests are encouraged to wear their hottest designer jeans and bling – real or fake.
The other Hope Award recipients were Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who could not attend as he had the year before because he was playing in what turned out to be the game that eliminated his team from the playoffs, and Hope & Cope founder and chair Sheila Kussner.
The awards recognize those who get cancer at an early age and go on to provide inspiration and leadership.
Koivu, whose foundation has raised millions for cancer care and research, beat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2001, and Kussner had a leg amputated above the knee at 14 due to bone cancer.
The co-chairs of Denim & Diamonds were Joanna Barcessat-Adler and Deborah Bridgman, who has battled back from three bouts of breast cancer over 14 years since first being diagnosed at age 30.
Held at Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal, the evening featured a half-hour concert by British singer Melanie C, a former member of the top 1990s pop group the Spice Girls. The ex-Sporty Spice, now a solo artist on a Canadian tour, donated her time to the event, and earlier toured Hope & Cope’s Wellness Centre on Côte Ste. Catherine Road, with Kussner.
“I am truly honoured and excited to lend my voice in support of Hope & Cope, which is setting an example for the world in the area of cancer care and support,” said Melanie C. “With young adult cancer on the rise in Canada, being part of Denim & Diamonds is my way of helping raise awareness of this important issue.”
Another celebrity contributing to the event was Quebec chef Ricardo Larrivée, who hosts a TV show on the Food Network.
Larrivée and his team prepared a gourmet pre-dinner for the 320 major donors to the Denim & Diamonds. Fourteen-year-old jazz singer Nikki Yanofsky, who made her Carnegie Hall debut a few months ago, sang a few classics.
The main part of the evening, MCed by TV and radio personality Sonia Benezra, featured food donated by local restaurants, a fashion show and auction conducted by Andy Nulman, former director of the Just for Laughs Festival.
Yanofsky presented the Hope Award to Kussner because she is the same age as the honoree was when she was diagnosed with cancer. Kussner, now 75, founded Hope and Cope 26 years ago.
Kussner said her personal experience has made her especially sensitive to what it means to face cancer in one’s youth. “The trauma shaped me in a profound way,” she said, propelling her to help others.
“I look back on a life of hard work and hard-won achievements. But it has been worth it. I have seen hope take root in the most unlikely places.”
The award to Koivu was presented by Raphael Leclaire, who five years ago at age 12 was found to have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same disease that struck the Habs captain. Four years, later the high school student had a recurrence.
Koivu visited Leclaire, an avid basketball player, in hospital when he was having a difficult time coping with his treatments.
The award was accepted by Steve Stein, a friend of Koivu’s.