DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Cancer is a scary diagnosis for anyone, but it can be especially isolating for teenagers and young adults. Duke Cancer Center just received hundreds of thousands of dollars to expand its program for young adults with cancer.

When Shannon Voelkel was 23 years old, doctors diagnosed her with cancer. She felt alone despite support from her family.

“I would make laps around the floor just to see if there was another young adult patient there,” she said. “Every single time I walked by, I was just heartbroken that I had to sit in silence and go on my way on a walk when I really wanted to be sitting down and connecting with someone.”

Finally she says she found someone in a similar situation.

“It wasn’t until my third round of treatment that I actually met another young adult my age, and we bonded immediately. I remember sitting in the room with her and my face was just glowing,” Voelkel said. 

Finding someone who understood her struggle gave her strength. She got involved with Duke’s program geared toward young adults with cancer — a program that’s about to get a lot bigger thanks to a $400,000 gift from Teen Cancer America and First Citizens Bank.

“This gift is going to allow us to expand it exponentially,” explained Steven Patierno, Deputy Director of the Duke Cancer Institute  “It will allow us to create spaces where they can build community and meet each other.” 

It will also provide experts to help with specific concerns for cancer patients in their teens and 20s.

“We’ll have a nurse navigator, fertility specialist, a program coordinator who focuses on things like sexual health and intimacy, occupational support,” said Patierno.  

Voelkel knows it will make a difference for other young adults diagnosed for the first time, and even for her as she fights cancer again.

“It gives you hope. It gives you hope when you have a support system that rallies in your corner,” she said.