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Lauren Ghazal

University of Rochester

Lauren Ghazal wasn’t sure how to react when, in 2018 — just a few months after starting her nursing theory Ph.D. program at New York University — her doctor told her that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Ghazal, who also is a nurse practitioner, felt like she was in a trance and walked around Central Park “for hours.” She called her mother, who let out a “guttural scream that I had never heard from her before,” she said.

Her experience epitomized that of other young adults who never expect to get that kind of diagnosis. “Cancer wasn’t on the bottom of my list. It wasn’t even on the list,” said Ghazal, who has since completed treatment and has been in remission for five years. 

After the initial shock wore off, she started diving into the literature of what it means to be young and live with a serious illness like cancer.

Ghazal’s focus is on “financial toxicity.” This concept describes how cancer patients feel crushed by the economic uncertainty of missing work and losing income, receiving countless medical bills, and having to pay for numerous other items throughout the course of treatment, like hospital parking fees.

One recent study from Ghazal and her colleagues found that people who had colorectal cancer, as well as their partners, suffered from both financial stress and a diminished quality of life. She wants to further understand and explore how all young adults can address these economic symptoms. “I really want to make a way for cancer to suck less,” Ghazal said.

— Bob Herman