Woman's online magazine aimed at young adults with cancer, other health concerns
CHAMPAIGN — By the time she'd reached her mid-20s, Mallory Casperson had taken care of her mom with cancer and become a cancer patient herself.
So she knows a thing or two about what young adults can go through dealing with the disease at a time life tends to be in transition and the kind of support they need can be hard to find.
"It was very isolating," she recalls about her own experience with Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was a graduate student in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois. "It probably is at any time, but this community is very transitory. It was a very transitory time for our support system of peers."
Now three summers past her cancer treatments, Casperson, 28, of Champaign, has launched an online magazine called Lacuna Loft at lacunaloft.com that is intended to provide lifestyle support and ideas to help young adults going through cancer and other serious illness.
Life for that age group can be busy, she says, and she hopes Lacuna Loft can help its visitors slow down a bit and figure out this new life they now have, learning to be happy and vibrant.
Lacuna Loft includes a blog and articles by Casperson and contributing writers, shared stories, resources, lifestyle tips such as what to cook and DIY projects, and an online store featuring such things as gift baskets for chemo patients.
Casperson says she also hopes to have an online support group available on the site in a couple of months.
A support group specifically for young adults — other than one for young breast cancer patients — was something she looked for in the area herself as a cancer patient and couldn't find, she says.
Young adults face issues all their own when cancer and other serious illnesses crash their lives.
Such as, Casperson says: Wondering about the effects of treatment on future fertility, how and when to tell friends (many of whom haven't had much experience yet with serious disease) and will a new employer allow time off.
And what disruptions to classwork for students, and is this something that can be unloaded on a new significant other, or is it best to move back home with parents while going through treatments?
Even cancer survival rates, which have made gains for older adults and children, have been stalled for young adults, possibly due to lack of health insurance, delays in getting diagnosed and less participation in clinical trials, according to Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance.
Casperson's own first symptom of cancer was a swelling in her neck.
She was 24 and engaged to her husband, Brett Jones, when she was diagnosed, and while there's no good time to get news like you've got cancer, she was also still grieving the recent loss of her mother, who had died of a brain tumor.
Casperson underwent a surgery in which one cancerous lymph node was removed, and sought a second opinion on treatment. She chose a clinical trial in St. Louis, in which she had four months of chemotherapy only, hoping to be spared the damaging effects of radiation down the road.
The cancer and treatments slowed down her education, with her master's degree taking three years to complete. She began a PhD in her field, but is currently focusing on Lacuna Lounge and is also coaching for the Champaign County YMCA Heat swim team.
And, even post-treatment, she finds she needs to maintain a good balance in her life — less salsa dancing and a bit more calm, relaxation and sleep.
Reactions to Lacuna Loft have been good, Casperson says, but she has startled some people talking about cancer, maybe because of her age. And, she adds, even at family gatherings, she's found people reluctant to mention cancer to her, because they may fear saying something awkward.
What she's striving for is "bringing cancer into a bit of a lighter light, not trying to lessen the effects that cancer can have, but just trying to bring it more into a day-to-day that fits into people's lives."
Young adult cancer
People in U.S. ages 20-39 diagnosed with cancer each year.
How long it's been since survival rates have improved for young adults and adolescents with cancer, in contrast to survival rates for older and younger patients.
About 2 percent
The number of cancer patients ages 20-39 treated in clinical trials, compared with more than 60 percent of children under age 15.