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Hospitals are opening wings exclusively for teens with cancer

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Hospitals are opening wings exclusively for teens with cancer

WATCH | Being a teen with cancer is hard enough. Being a teen in the adult cancer ward full of 60-year-olds is harder, so hospitals are creating "teen zones."

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer at 19 and then having to spend your time in the hospital with 60-year-olds receiving chemotherapy treatment as well.

That was the reality for Nico Juber, 34, who was placed in adult oncology care when she was diagnosed with cancer her freshman year of college.

But that might not be the norm soon enough, as more hospitals open "teen zones" where young adults receive treatment together, separately from pediatric and adult patients.

"The adult floornothing about it is fun," said Keaton Williams, who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of tissue cancer, when he was 19.

"You would see old people who had cancer. And they were [at the] end of [their] lifespan. And that was terrifying to me."

Williams was placed in the pediatric unit, where he was surrounded by young kids instead, which he says was better but not ideal. Then the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen Cancer Program opened at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.

You would see old people who had cancer. And they were [at the] end of [their] lifespan. And that was terrifying to me.
Keaton Williams, diagnosed with cancer at 19

Simon Davies from Teen Cancer America says the average age for an adult oncology ward at a hospital is about 60 years old.

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Take a tour

Take a look at the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Zone. It features bold murals and a room where patients can play video games, use the computer or host dinner parties for friends.

Inside the teen cancer zones

The center at UCLA is made possible by the Teen Cancer America organization, which has seven other centers like it around the US right now.

"They're places where young people can feel relaxed," says Simon Davies, executive director of Teen Cancer America. "They're computers, they're playstation. Instead of Disney wallpaper, there's funkier designs that teens can relate to."

The centers also help patients cope with teen-specific issues like infertility.

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Meet Keaton

Keaton Williams, now 23, is a southern California native who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of tissue cancer when he was a freshman in college. He was placed in the pediatric unit at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.

Why more are popping up

In the US, there's adult and pediatric oncology care. In the UK, there's that and there's also young adult care when it comes to oncology.

And that's exactly the concept that's making its way over to the U.S.

"In you're a young adult," says Davies, "the average age in one of those [adult] hospital wards is about 60."

And that can be socially isolating for teens receiving in-patient treatment.

What studies say

There's no one factor that determines a patient's chance of survival, but a study in the medical journal Cancer says one's social life may have a lot to do with it.

The 2016 study found that women with breast cancer who were "socially integrated" had "significantly lower death rates" than women who were more lonely.

According to the study, socially isolated women were 64% more likely to die from cancer.

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Meet Nico

Nico Juber, 34, is now married with two kids. But 15 years ago, she left Tufts University in Boston to receive treatment in the adult ward at UCLA. She was 19.

Undergoing chemo without a 'teen zone'

Nico Juber who didn't have access to a teen zone when she underwent chemotherapy 15 years ago, says she doesn't need a study to tell her that.

"I would go and I would be much younger than anyone around me," Juber said. "I would feel this weird pressure because people would say, 'Oh, you're so strong, you're going to be great. And I felt like I needed to be strong for everyone, including family and friends as well as other patients."

The future of 'teen zones'

You likely won't see teen cancer wings in every U.S. hospital anytime zone. That's due mostly to resources and the fact that teenagers account for less than one percent of cancer cases in the country, according to the American Cancer Society.

But Teen Cancer America says it has seven more centers in the works and seven already operating. It also has partnerships with other hospitals, where they might not have a physical center, but they do have programming.

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