By Grace Pateras
On Friday, the country band Old Dominion will headline at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and select special guests will join the stage.
The guests are cancer patients, all enrolled in the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics’ new program, called AYA Cancer Program.
The Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program is a collaboration between the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. AYA’s purpose is to identify patients’ needs, coordinate with hospital departments and groups, and find patients the best care offered on site.
“We’ve always had the services available here, but the (AYA) program actually allows it to be done more quickly, before treatment starts,” said Clinical Assistant Professor Bill Terry, the UIHC medical oncologist who leads the AYA Cancer Program.
Maddie Perry, 20, has Stage 3 T-cell lymphoma. Originally from Davenport, the now-Alexis, Illinois, resident has been treated at UIHC since her February diagnosis. She is one of around four patients who agreed to take the stage and be recognized.
Friday’s concert is a benefit show to raise community awareness for the care the AYA program provides to patients such as Perry.
The McCaffery family has been a leading force for planning the event and raising awareness for the program. Both Fran, Iowa men’s basketball head coach, and wife Margaret support the efforts of the group in hopes that it will benefit future patients and families of youth with cancer. Their son, Patrick, was diagnosed and treated at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital four years ago.
Across the nation, many hospitals and centers are creating their own AYA programs. But at UIHC, the resources of having many different departments on site makes it stand out.
The program is for cancer patients 13 to 31 years old being treated at the Cancer Center or in pediatrics.
“If you think about it, when you’re in college or high school, you’re already stressed [that] every decision you make is going to lead to the rest of your life,” Terry said. “Decisions about relationships, and yourself, your career. And then you add cancer to this — it puts a big kink in everything … You already have a stressful life, trying to figure out what the next steps are, and cancer does not help that in any way.”
Because of the focus on a particular age group, the AYA Cancer Program is able to cater to patient’s needs. Hematology oncology Nurse Practitioner Kristi Foster said young adult patients feel lost in the middle, either surrounded by babies or the elderly.
The AYA program tries to help them form connections and build relationships with others who have something in common with them.
“AYA has so many needs, be it medical, psycho, social,” Foster said. “There are so many different things. So we were a bit overzealous in trying to take them all on at the same time, but we’re trying to do a balancing act and make sure that we’re focusing on each of these different domains that AYA has huge needs in.”
UIHC’s AYA program focuses on seven areas: clinical trials, clinical care, fertility, genetic counseling, pain and palliative care, supportive services, and survivorship planning.
“The services were always there,” Terry said. “As we met with patients and looked at it, what we found was that the treatment teams are so busy really focusing on the best treatment for patients that this was a piece that sometimes wasn’t addressed as quickly.”
Other events, like peer-to-peer meet-ups, are held as well.
The AYA Cancer Program began in May 2017 and has been able to fund one clinical trial.
There are currently 70 patients enrolled in the program, at no additional cost to the patient. The cost is covered by philanthropy donors and the university.
The team behind UIHC’s AYA program consists of five core members — Terry, Foster, administrator Justin Kahler, medical oncologist Clinical Assistant Professor Varun Monga, and nurse Lindsey Clifford.
The five coordinate with others at the UIHC who interact with patients of AYA program participants, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists.
Margaret McCaffery and husband Fran have been an essential force behind supporting the AYA program and organizing Friday’s event.
When their son Patrick was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 14, he went to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for treatment. Four years after his diagnosis, he has not had any recurrence, Margaret McCaffery said.
The new AYA program is especially important to their family because it wasn’t something offered when Patrick underwent treatment.
“I think whenever you go through a life-changing experience, especially when it involves one of your children … We felt we have an opportunity because of Fran’s job and the attention that he gets, to try to spread a message about the importance of [the program],” Margaret said.
Proceeds from the Hawkeye Basketball Tipoff Party at UIHC, held the last six Octobers, donates to the cause.
In the first five years, $635,000 was raised and donated to AYA Cancer Program.
The famous “Franwich” sold at Iowa Applebee’s restaurants during basketball season also raises money for UIHC programs.
After seeing how a concert held at Kinnick Stadium (led by The Native Fund to support Iowans in need), Margaret said she thought it would be great to see something similar held at Carver.
Even further, the McCafferys have been involved in the Coaches vs. Cancer program, a fundraiser under the American Cancer Society that the National Association of Basketball Coaches leads.
But the AYA program, Margaret said, is special because it is unique to the UI.
“We were trying to spread the message of cancer prevention, cancer awareness, raising money for research,” she said. “That this is a really unique problem, and the people that are in this group of cancer patients aren’t doing as well, and it’s important that we get to the bottom of why that is.
“And also to let people know if you need help, you can reach out, you can find us. But also there’s this great program now at Iowa.”
Patrick committed to play on the Iowa basketball team under his father as head coach. He will join his brother, Connor, who plays point guard.
Prior to the show, event promoters donated tickets for patients and their guests. Some were invited on stage, such as Perry, who will bring her two sisters along to watch the show.
The “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” singers will return to Iowa City, this time as part of the Happy Endings tour. In March 2016, they played at the IMU.
Prior to the visit in 2016, lead singer Matt Ramsey told The Daily Iowan, “College kids have a lot of energy, and we love that … The younger college crowd is our crowd. We feel at home whenever we get to play in a college town.”
Old Dominion recently received the Vocal Group of the Year award at 2018 ACM awards in April.
Opening acts for Friday’s event include Michael Ray and Brandon Lay.
Tickets are still on sale online, and doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
Just like Perry’s community back at home, whose members have sent her cards to offer their support on her journey, Perry said the concert, and those who support the AYA Cancer Program, will make a difference.
“I know all this comes together, a community vibe is going on,” she said. “It’s really nice for everyone to take time out of their day and donate. This concert is a really good thing not only for me but other cancer patients.”
Old Dominion — AYA program benefit concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Old Dominion — AYA program benefit concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday