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New patient-led podcast helps young adults with cancer navigate ‘Life on Pause’

Ryan Dellinger never expected that his senior year of high school would be sidelined by cancer treatments.

Likewise, when Lauren Kauffman began planning her wedding, she never dreamed her trousseau would include a wig to replace her hair lost to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“At least I didn’t have to worry about getting my hair done – it was in a box,” the Carlisle resident quipped, using humor to deflect an experience that she says felt like “the end of the world” when she was diagnosed.

To help other young adults facing cancer, Kauffman and Dellinger are part of a groundbreaking podcast called Life on Pause, Penn State Health’s first external podcast hosted by cancer patients.

“Getting cancer in my 20s made me think about things I never thought about before – like mortality, after-effects of chemo and fertility,” Kauffman said. “Talking with people who are going through the same things makes you feel a lot less alone.”

Cancer affects life at any stage, but it can be particularly disruptive for young adults on the cusp of many large life events, such as college, career launch, marriage or starting a family, said Shelly Ungemach, psychosocial program development coordinator for Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

Their age alone can make young adults feel isolated – they feel too old to be treated in pediatrics and too young to be treated alongside older adults. “We were looking for ways to offer support with peer-patient expertise,” Ungemach said.

The problem of how to attract young adults to a support group was answered by using a medium they love – a podcast.

“They were all about putting themselves out there to help others,” Ungemach said. “So often patients are in the position of receiving help – these patients are so happy to give it.”

The podcast, supported in part by Four Diamonds, addresses topics such as juggling school and chemo, pets as a source of comfort and handling ‘unmentionable’ side effects of treatment.

“You automatically understand each other better than anyone else can,” said Dellinger, in remission from B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and a freshman at Penn State York. “The podcast is also a window into our struggles for families and friends who don’t know what we’re going through.”

Life on Pause participants say they hope that listeners leave the podcasts fueled with courage and optimism as they get ready to press ‘play’ in their own lives.

To listen, search for ‘Life on Pause’ from Penn State Health on your podcast app of choice, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email Penn State Health Marketing & Communications.