After 35 years as a pediatric oncologist/hematologist, Alexandra C. Cheerva, MD, MS, has seen the rapid advancements that have improved the survivability of childhood cancers and made follow-up care a necessity.
Following a distinguished career at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, and as a faculty member at the medical school, Dr. Cheerva has stepped up to be co-leader of the Norton Cancer Institute Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program.
Patrick Williams, MD, a medical oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute, also is co-leader of the program.
“I love this group of patients. I want to help make this transition to the adult world easier for them,” said Dr. Cheerva, who previously served as director of stem cell transplantation and the pediatric stem cell transplantation laboratory.
The AYA Program is for people ages 18 to 39 who have been diagnosed with cancer. It is estimated that there are more than 300,000 adult survivors of childhood cancer in the United States. Not only have these young adults been through the emotional and physical challenges of treatment as children, they face higher risk for a number of potentially serious medical conditions throughout their lives.
“We know patients benefit from coming to a program like this on a long-term basis,” Dr. Cheerva said, adding that the patients should continue to see their primary care physicians.
Pediatric cancer survivors need specialized care as they grow up
About 75% of pediatric cancer survivors have a chronic health condition. An estimated 25% to 40% will face a serious or potentially life-threatening late effect from their treatment, according to Dr. Cheerva. Potential late effects include fertility issues, heart conditions, joint replacements, diabetes, hormonal issues, cognitive challenges, scoliosis, and benign or malignant tumors.
“These are patients we have to monitor very closely,” Dr. Cheerva said.
The AYA Program typically sees cancer survivors for annual checkups. The program gives patients appropriate screening, based on the treatment they received for cancer. For example, women who received certain treatments might need to start having routine mammograms or other breast imaging at age 25 instead of in their 40s.
For patients at risk of diabetes or heart disease, the program has a nutritionist on staff to help with diet and lifestyle modification recommendations.
Norton Cancer Institute Adolescent and Young Adult Program
Learn more about getting treatment for pediatric cancer survivors.
Call (502) 629-HOPE (4673)
The program also has psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners to offer counseling and mental health support. Survivors of childhood cancers are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Cheerva.
“They are young adults, but they’ve been through an awful lot of trauma,” she said.
The AYA Program also offers art therapy, music therapy, educational classes, fitness, massage therapy, support groups and other support.
“My primary mission when I started was to try to cure these young people of their cancer. After they are done with therapy and cured of cancer, you can’t just say goodbye… and say ‘we’re done.’ Many of them, unfortunately, have late effects and need continued monitoring and care,” Dr. Cheerva said. “We can’t let them go. We need to keep taking care of them. They are precious when we first meet them, and they remain precious for the rest of their lives.”
Happy, healthy, productive lives for decades to come
Some of these cancer survivors want to be nurses or doctors. Others want to help the cancer community by fundraising.
“The strengths we see in these young adults are unique and amazing,” Dr. Cheerva said. “They’ve grown through this. They’ve learned from this, and they want to give back.”
dr Cheerva said her goal when she’s treating patients in the AYA Program is the same as when she treated children with cancer.
“I want them to live a happy, healthy, useful and productive life for decades and decades and decades to come,” she said.
Patients can be seen at the following locations:
Norton Cancer Institute-St Matthews
2 Norton Medical Plaza – St Matthews, Suite 405
3991 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, KY 40207
Norton Cancer Institute Women’s Cancer Center
Medical Towers South, Suite 154
234 E Gray St
Louisville KY 40202