‘Get out and live’: Jacksonville nonprofit helps young adults cope with cancer diagnosis

Jacksonville, FL. — At 12-years-old, Kaitlyn Ash was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer found in adolescents and teens called Ewing’s sarcoma.

“I just remember crying. And crying for thirty minutes and I kept saying I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. That’s all I kept saying,” Ash said.

After more than a year in chemotherapy, Ash reached remission. But she said her journey there was difficult as a young teen.

“It was hard. It sucked. There was a lot of isolation with school; getting made fun of for wearing wig,” she said.

Lauren Stafford was 30-years-old when she was diagnosed with the same rare cancer Ash had, but she didn’t know her at the time.

Stafford had just given birth to her four-month-old son and also had a 2-year-old at home.

“My entire right chest was full of something. My lung was collapsed and it looked like my fifth rib had just been eaten away. It was just gone,” she told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

Stafford had pain in her chest during her entire pregnancy, but was not diagnosed until after.

Because of her health condition, she had to leave her job as clinical manager of pharmacies at St. Vincent’s Healthcare.

“I felt incredibly alone. There was no one else I knew at that age who had cancer,” she said. Stafford and Ash didn’t know it then, but they both had something in common that would bring them together.

Both women had cancer as adolescents or young adults.

About 90,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39-years-old have cancer every year and 10,000 die.

However, it’s an age group both Ash and Stafford agree don’t have the same support as young children or older adults.

After losing her mother to a fight with cancer at 19-years-old, Ash started Live for Today.

It’s a support group for young adults with cancer.

In 2013 they helped just a handful of individuals.

Now the organization has helped more than 170 people.

“People just don’t get the support that they need. That’s why we started Live for today,” Ash said. “When it comes to young adults 18 and older — all of those organizations just kind of cut you off. But you’re not an adult at 18, right?”

Stafford joined the organization and now serves as the vice president, helping to bring support to cancer patients and survivors of Northeast Florida.