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Social support, coping strategies and the impact on relationships for adolescents who have experienced cancer

Adolescence is a period characterised by a number of biological, social and psychological changes. Those facing a cancer diagnosis in adolescence find that they have further challenges and changes to deal with, in addition to the normal challenges associated with adolescence. The purpose of this research was to understand the experiences of adolescents who have had cancer. The aim was to examine the impact their illness had on their social relationships, to explore how they coped and found support, and to investigate the impact having cancer had on the developmental tasks associated with adolescence. While there has been extensive literature on these topics internationally, there has been limited research conducted within a New Zealand context. Semi-structured interviews were completed with eight young people who had been diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 13 and 20. These interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis. Two topics that seemed to encapsulate the overall experiences of the participants were identified. These topics were coping with cancer and life will never be the same. In addition, seven themes were identified, which included: coping strategies, the importance of social support, obtaining illness related information, cancer as loss, cancer as a time of growth and development, relationships change and after the cancer is gone. The findings of this study highlighted the importance of providing information for adolescents at the right time in their cancer journey. Another major finding in this study was that many young people with cancer felt that their peers were not equipped to deal with their illness or offer support, and as a result many relationships were lost. Despite this, many participants reported that they were able to utilise social support by meeting others with cancer and receiving support from parents, siblings and some peers. Another key finding from this study was that following the completion of treatment, adolescents continue to face a number of challenges. Some of these challenges include dealing with the long term effects of their illness such as infertility or learning to adjust to a new identity as a cancer survivor. While findings in this study suggested that cancer was conceptualised as a time of loss including a loss of identity and a loss of opportunities, all participants were able to identify positive changes as a result of their illness. These changes included a newfound appreciation for life and making the most of opportunities they were provided. This thesis provides recommendations for professionals, agencies and services working with this population to ensure that appropriate emotional and psychological support is continued to be offered to young people and their families, particularly following completion of treatment. There was also a need identified for peers of young people with cancer to be given some sort of education in order to help support their peers through their cancer journey.
Type of thesis
Evans, R. S. (2015). Social support, coping strategies and the impact on relationships for adolescents who have experienced cancer (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9219
University of Waikato
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