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UCLA

See Me, Heal Me

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By Sean Brenner

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


The UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen And Young Adult Cancer Program

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The new center at UCLA is custom-designed for teens and young adults. Rendering of center courtesy of UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Cancer Program.

Great things can spring from little moments. So it was a few years ago when Roger Daltrey, legendary lead singer of The Who, came to Westwood to do a benefit concert for UCLA's Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program for kids with autism. When he was finished, the Rock Hall of Famer chatted with Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor for health sciences.

Daltrey asked the doctor, "Do you do teenage cancer at UCLA?"

The doctor told the rocker, "Of course we do teenage cancer. What's it to you?"

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Rock legends Robert Plant (left) and Roger Daltrey showed up to support young cancer patients. Photo courtesy of Amanda Friedman.

"And then," recalls Feinberg, "I learned that he knew more about teenage cancer than I did."

Daltrey and his equally famous bandmate, Pete Townshend, are behind the Teenage Cancer Trust, which has helped fund 19 special teen cancer units in the United Kingdom. Feinberg saw an opportunity for a partnership.

That led to an expedition to the U.K. in June 2011 by a team of UCLA pediatric and medical oncologists, child-life specialists, nurses, psychologists and several young adult cancer survivors to visit and train with experts from the Teenage Cancer Trust program. Dr. Jacqueline Casillas M.D. '95, M.S. '03, an associate professor of pediatrics who will head the program at UCLA and who led the delegation, says, "We witnessed firsthand the positive impact that the U.K. Teenage Cancer Trust units have on the lives of young people affected by cancer. Our team returned from the trip energized and enthusiastic to begin developing our own specialized unit for teens and young adults."

And in November, the university did just that. A press conference was held to announce the launch of the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen & Young Adult Cancer Program, which will serve teens and young adult cancer patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Daltrey was there, as was another legend, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, who has been closely involved with the U.K. program and is lending his support to the UCLA program as well. Townshend sent his best wishes via video.

The center is the first of its kind in the U.S. And it is as desperately needed here as it is across the pond. Daltrey notes that teens are often overlooked in the fight against cancer because they tend to be more active and get injuries from sports, leading doctors to dismiss signs that otherwise could point to cancer until patients come back for second or third visits.

"It's anathema to me that the medical profession has never noticed that this age group aren't children, and they certainly aren't adults," he explains. "They are completely different. They get the rarest, the most aggressive cancers of all — one in 360 boys and one in 420 girls."

At the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen & Young Adult Cancer Program's special hospital unit, teens with cancer will be treated together and housed in adjoined patient rooms around a common lounge so they can provide emotional support for each other. The units are designed to provide as close to a normal life as possible, helping the kids cope with grueling treatments and long hospital stays.

The program "will focus on the care of the whole person, including their medical, emotional and social needs, in a nurturing, unique environment," Feinberg adds. "It will be tailored to meet their individual needs throughout their cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment and into survivorship. It will also bring young people together so they can be teens and young adults first and foremost, enabling them to have their voices heard and to see the faces of other young people in the setting of cancer care."

"It's great to see that we're coming together to make this happen here in L.A.," says 28- year-old cancer survivor Michael Pena, a member of the Bruin team that went to England to visit the Teenage Cancer Trust centers and an adviser to the new Westwood center. "We can make the experience easier by creating a sense of belonging."

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