Pediatric oncologist to help survivors live healthy and happy lives as adults
After 35 years as a pediatric oncologist/hematologist, Alexandra C. Cheerva, MD, MS, has seen the rapid progress that has improved survivability for childhood cancers and made follow-up care a necessity.
After a distinguished career at the Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UdeL School of Medicine, and as a faculty member of the medical school, Dr. Cheerva became co-director of the Norton Cancer Institute Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program.
Patrick Williams, MD, a medical oncologist at the Norton Cancer Institute, is also co-lead 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 Transplant Laboratory.
The AYA program is for people between the ages of 18 and 39 who have been diagnosed with cancer. It is estimated that there are more than 300,000 adult childhood cancer survivors in the United States. Not only did these young adults go through the emotional and physical challenges of treatment as children, but they are at higher risk for a number of potentially serious medical conditions throughout their lives.
“We know that patients benefit from a program like this over the long term,” Dr. Cheerva said, adding that patients should continue to see their primary care physician.
Childhood cancer survivors need specialist care as they grow
About 75% of childhood cancer survivors have a chronic disease. An estimated 25% to 40% will face a serious or life-threatening late effect from their treatment, according to Dr. Cheerva. Potential late effects include fertility issues, heart problems, joint replacements, diabetes, hormonal issues, cognitive challenges, scoliosis, and benign or malignant tumors.
“These are patients we need to watch very closely,” Dr. Cheerva said.
The AYA program typically sees cancer survivors for annual exams. The program gives patients an appropriate screening, based on the treatment they received for the cancer. For example, women who have received certain treatments may need to start having routine mammograms or other breast imaging exams at age 25 rather than at age 40.
For patients at risk for diabetes or heart disease, the program has a nutritionist on staff to help with dietary and lifestyle modification recommendations.
Norton Cancer Institute Teen and Young Adult Program
Learn more about getting treatment for childhood cancer survivors.
Call (502) 629-HOPE (4673)
The program also has psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners to offer mental health counseling and support. According to Dr. Cheerva, survivors of childhood cancers are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
“They’re young adults, but they’ve been through a lot of trauma,” she said.
The AYA program also offers art therapy, music therapy, educational classes, fitness, massage therapy, support groups and other forms of support.
“My first mission when I started was to try to cure these young people of their cancer. Once they’re done with therapy and they’re cured of cancer, you can’t just say goodbye to them…and say “it’s over”. Many of them, unfortunately, have late effects and require ongoing monitoring and care,” Dr. Cheerva said. “We cannot let them go. We must continue to take care of them. They are precious when we first meet them, and they remain precious for the rest of their lives.
Happy, healthy and 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 raising funds.
“The strengths we see in these young adults are unique and incredible,” Dr. Cheerva said. “They grew up on that. They learned from that and they want to give back.
Dr. Cheerva said her focus when treating patients in the AYA program is the same as when treating children with cancer.
“I want them to live happy, healthy, purposeful and productive lives for decades and decades and decades to come,” she said.
Patients can be seen at the following locations:
Norton Cancer Institute – St. Matthews
Norton Medical Plaza 2 – St. Matthews, Suite 405
3991 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40207
Norton Cancer Institute Women’s Cancer Center
South Medical Towers, Suite 154
234 E. Gray St.
Louisville KY 40202