UAB professor records tribulations of homeless cancer survivors

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Cynthia Ryan knows the importance of support when dealing with cancer. As a two-time cancer survivor, Ryan understands that those without proper guidance  through the health care system can find themselves confused and overwhelmed, even more so if you are homeless.

Ryan is an English professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who teaches students to look into people's stories about medicine and science in ways that relate to important issues. A recent study by Ryan, published in "CR: Collaborative Results", has her hoping that professional and societal implications could come from this work.

"I want to make these invisible people visible, to make people recognize that there are cancer survivors who are off the national radar," says Ryan. "And I would like to see some kind of systematic change, so that if you don't have a job and live on the streets there are services to help you navigate the health-care system."

Ryan says her interest in homeless people with cancer was piqued by a newsletter from the Church of the Reconciler. "I felt like I had been inundated for so many years with the same stories about cancer. It gets old and frustrating, and this was something different," says Ryan.

Ryan spent several months getting to know cancer survivors who are homeless in Birmingham. She detailed in her journal the burden that came with not having a home or food or a bed while handling cancer.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, she says, "there's pressure to identify with others who have cancer, but there are plenty of things that divide us as well."

In Ryan's article, she looks at both the similarities and differences that each person confronts in their battle with cancer. She hopes that shining light on the overlooked homeless with cancer, she can help them to bond while facing a dangerous disease.

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