As you may already know, college is a stressful but exciting time. It presents plenty of new challenges and exposure to more people, views and activities. However, if you’re dealing with breast cancer at a young age, the natural appeal of college can disappear. When we talk about young women and breast cancer, we often focus on women between the ages of 25 and 39. But this isn’t the only young age group that can develop the disease. Women as young as 15 can develop breast cancer. Some women receive the diagnosis before they even finish high school. And then there are those diagnosed in college. College students and breast cancer are an unfortunate combination, but thankfully, like with many other subgroups affected by the disease, support is available. Today we’re exploring some of the challenges and support available.
The Challenge of Breast Cancer While in College
Getting a Diagnosis
One of the main issues teens and young women face when they develop breast cancer extremely young is disbelief from physicians.
Roughly 80 percent of young women with breast cancer discover an abnormality on their own. This is most often thanks to regular self-examination techniques. Unfortunately, some physicians brush aside a young woman’s concern about lumps. In certain cases, young women are unable to receive the proper breast scan for several months.
This happened with Adrienne Harlow, a Purdue University student, diagnosed at age 19. When she first discovered a lump in her breast, she had to go to four different doctors and talk to her health insurance company to get the biopsy she needed.
Learning About Breast Cancer and Health
College-age women also hold numerous misconceptions about breast cancer. Many believe that it’s impossible to develop breast cancer at such a young age. They’re unfamiliar with the healthcare system and often do not get second opinions about their diagnoses. If their physician says a lump is of no concern, they’ll often drop the subject and ignore the abnormality.
Further, with all the demands of school, maintaining good health is not a priority for many women in college. And they often forget to complete regular self-examinations.
Dealing With the Stress
Having breast cancer is extremely stressful. And earning a degree is extremely stressful. Combining the two just makes each one more difficult.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you must go through regular treatments and physician visits. This can wreak havoc on your school schedule. Many women opt to take time off from school. And most universities and institutions recognize the need for time off during this situation and are accommodating.
But you may want to keep things as normal as possible. If that’s the case, it is best to discuss your situation with teachers and advisors. They may be able to help you by giving you work that can be done away from the classroom or getting you up-to-date on lectures you missed.
To read more about some of the challenges of breast cancer while in college, please check here. This article presents stories from three women who dealt with breast cancer while they were in college.
Financial Support for College-Age Breast Cancer Patients
Both breast cancer and college make a dent on the piggy bank. But scholarships and finance options can help.
We’ve discussed ways to find financial assistance for cancer treatment before, so we’ll focus more on paying for college as a woman with breast cancer.
The Federal Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are federally funded options for paying for college. These aren’t specifically designed for women with breast cancer. However, they can still provide some relief.
Federal Pell Grants support students seeking a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. They’re awarded to individuals based on financial need and have a maximum amount of around $5,500. Meanwhile, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant serves as an additional way to get financial support for costs not covered by a Pell Grant. This type of award is available to students who qualified for a Pell Grant, but still have a large portion of the costs left uncovered. Women who are given this type of scholarship may be awarded between $100 and $4,000.
Private National Options that Address College Students and Breast Cancer
If you’ve been preparing for college, you’ve surely noticed that there is no shortage of private scholarships available. There are scholarships with nearly every focus imaginable. Obviously, we’ll just talk about some of the cancer-focused scholarships:
- Cancer for College: This organization has been around since 1993 and provides awards ranging from $250 to $4,000. The scholarships given by Cancer for College are only available to individuals who have or have had cancer. Further, priority is given to individuals from within California.
- Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults: Designed for individuals between the ages of 15 and 39, the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults grants various scholarships to college students. Awarded students have either been diagnosed with cancer themselves or have a parent or sibling with cancer. Winners receive up to $2,500 over the course of two semesters.
- Patient Advocate Foundation: Through this organization, students can apply for the PAF Scholarship for Survivors. This scholarship is for students below the age of 25. They must provide a detailed medical history showing that they have suffered or are suffering from a life-threatening disease. Applicants must also be enrolled full-time as a college student and agree to complete 20 hours of community service each year they receive the award. Annual amounts currently average around $3,000.
Private Local Options that Address College Students and Breast Cancer
- Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation: This foundation is a leading organization that supports the New York-Hudson Bay area. It provides a huge range of support services, including outreach programs and counseling, in addition to its scholarships. The Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation grants eight $1,000 scholarships to students affected by breast cancer each year.
- Nancy Jaynes Memorial Scholarship Award: Given to high school seniors in Indiana, the Nancy Jaynes Memorial Scholarship provides help to students seeking a college or post-secondary technical school education. Students must have a parent with breast cancer or a parent who passed away due to breast cancer. This scholarship grants awards up to $1,500.
There are plenty of additional options available, as well. To learn about a few more scholarship opportunities, please click here or here. You can also search for options on your own or ask your current high school or college advisors for suggestions.
Fortunately, many individuals actively work to change college women’s understanding of breast cancer. University health organizations often discuss self-examinations during health fairs and make information about breast cancer more readily available.
Meanwhile, the CanCan Health organization encourages college campuses to host breast cancer “parties.” At these events, a breast cancer survivor shares her story with attendees. Breast health instructors also teach women about screening methods and various risk factors. Women can also learn about lifestyle habits and environment factors that might increase their risk of developing breast cancer.
We’ve also discussed the Young Survival Coalition in previous articles. This organization does plenty of work to spread information about breast cancer among young women.
If you’re in college and dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, we encourage you to be proactive and reach out to any or all of the support organizations we’ve covered here. You may be just a phone call or email away from the support, encouragement or answers you need to get you through the particular challenges you face as a college student with breast cancer.