Young Adult Cancer Survivors Find Help, Hope through YASU
Jun 29, 2020 07:27PM
By Kathleen Ganster
Stephanie Scoletti and friends attend the annual Wig Out fundraiser. Photo courtesy Simply Sisters Photography
At 20 years old, you aren’t usually thinking about life and death situations. Unless of course, you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.
In 2005, Stephanie Scoletti was attending the University of Pittsburgh and like many 20-year-olds, planning her future, concentrating on her studies, enjoying life. Then she began noticing random bruises on her hands and arms–and they wouldn’t go away.
“Within two weeks, I developed a severe fever, random bleeding, extreme fatigue and abdominal pain—I later found out it was an enlarged spleen,” Scoletti said. It was then she received devastating news: She had cancer.
“Life as a 20-year-old, bald, leukemia patient is never something we ever imagine in our wildest dreams growing up,” she added.
In addition to every other challenge that comes with leukemia, Scoletti felt isolated. “I was by far the youngest in the hospital and outpatient treatment facility,” she said, “and I was baffled by the lack of resources and support available for young adults.”
After her own journey, Scoletti knew that her experience and education could help others. In 2011, she joined the Cancer Caring Center as the director of support services. Soon, she was leading a support group for other young adults ages 18-39 facing cancer.
“This was my opportunity to close the gap by building a community that never existed in our region—one where young adults with cancer could be themselves in a room where others understood and could relate,” she explained.
It was such a success that in 2014 the services were expanded, offering social and financial support, including social outings.
“It was an opportunity for the cancer survivor and caregiver to take a break from cancer and instead participate in an uplifting activity while building valuable friendships at no cost to them,” said Scoletti. The organization also started offering $100 stipends (now $300 per person annually).
Over the years, Scoletti created the largest community for young adult cancer survivors in western Pennsylvania, which made her realize that she wanted to take it to the next level. Planned long before COVID-19 was anywhere on the horizon, Young Adult Survivors United (YASU) officially launched as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in early March.
“We were fortunate to launch at a time when we don’t have many overhead expenses. Simultaneously, it’s been challenging ‘getting on the map’ since society has been in crisis mode, helping keep established organizations afloat, which we agree is extremely critical and important,” she said.
Despite the quarantine, Scoletti has been offering services including support groups twice a week, monthly social nights, monthly caregiver support groups and more—all virtually.
“When permitted, we will transition back to in-person meetings but will always have virtual options moving forward since many individuals can’t travel to groups due to illness, work schedules, and caring for young children,” she said.
Scoletti’s biggest fan and partner in her efforts has been her husband, Matt. In 2014, Matt completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and raised $12,000 for cancer care.
“He also proposed to me that weekend,” Scoletti said.
Since then, Matt has raised $75,000. The pandemic, however, made his last challenge even more, well, challenging.
“Matt had intended on running a 100-mile ultra-marathon in South Carolina, until his only option was to participate virtually due to COVID-19,” explained Scoletti. “So he decided to run it on our one-mile cul-de-sac.”
It took Matt 29 hours to complete the run in their Hampton Township neighborhood while friends and family cheered him on, raising $13,000 for YASU.
The services that YASU provides are vital to its clients.
“It’s the family I needed to hold me up during one of the hardest times in my young adult life,” said Ashley Smock, a 33-year-old ovarian cancer survivor. “Having the financial, emotional and mental support from other survivors who have been in my shoes and who will be there when I’m down has been a game changer for me.”
Making future plans is difficult in light of COVID-19, but Scoletti hopes that YASU will be able to host their annual Wig Out fundraiser to be held at Tequila Cowboy on October 22. If necessary, the event will be held virtually. For more information about YASU, visit them on Facebook or at www.yasurvivors.org.