GUWC presents at Youth Health 2011

The Growing Up with Cancer research project had a few appearances at the wonderful Australian Adolescent Health conference (aka Youth Health: It’s totally important).

My colleague Peter Lewis spoke in the youth cancer session about young cancer survivors making meaning and finding benefit from their cancer experiences.

Making meaning and finding benefit: Young people’s reflections on survival after cancer

Lewis, P, Mooney-Somers, J, Jordens, CFC, and Kerridge, I

Qualitative research with adult cancer survivors has reported that survivors engage in activities that are designed to “give something back” to the community or to the health care system that helped them survive. This paper examines whether expressions of indebtedness and/or actions undertaken to “repay” the debt are evident in young people’s accounts of becoming a cancer survivor.

This paper is based on our findings from 47 semi-structured interviews conducted with 27 cancer survivors (16-30 years old) who were diagnosed between 10 and 22 years. Participants described how their experiences gave them special insight and wisdom into problems experienced by their peers and that this motivated them to help others. We will discuss three themes; Cancer as transformation, Accounts of intentions to act as a better person, and Accounts of acting as a better person.

The literature suggests that one way cancer survivors make sense of their experience is to determine how the experience was beneficial for them. We will argue that the ways participants in our study described enacting “being a better person” in their daily lives can be understood as a strategy for disseminating the benefits of the wisdom and insight that they had gained from being treated for cancer. That is, they are engaged in finding benefit rather than repaying a debt as described in adult cancer survivors.

We also had two posters:

Becoming a survivor – young people disclosing cancer to new friends and romantic partners

Lewis, P and Mooney-Somers, J

The Growing up with Cancer study aimed to explore the effects of a cancer diagnosis during adolescence on young people’s developing identity, relationships, agency, and autonomy. This paper focuses on how cancer affected young people’s developing friendships and romantic relationships.

We conducted 47 semi-structured interviews with 27 young people (16 to 29 years) who had been diagnosed with various cancers and haematological malignancies when aged 10 to 22 years. Interview data were analysed using a symbolic interactionist perspective.
Participants described fears around possible consequences of introducing their cancer history into new friendships and particularly for young men, romantic relationships. This contrasted with positive experiences reported by many (especially young women) of establishing new friendships and romantic relationships and implementing successful disclosure strategies.

Disclosing a cancer history in new relationships is an important step in becoming a cancer survivor. In contrast to negotiating a cancer survivor identity with family or existing friends, new friends and romantic partners offer a clean slate where young cancer survivors can decide when and who to tell about their cancer, and experiment with the presentation of a post-cancer self.

Our findings suggest that part of survivorship for young people is working out how cancer contributes to their identity so they can provide an account of themselves. It may be important for young people to have opportunities for disclosure early in their survivorship and discussion with more experienced survivor peers about strategies for positive disclosure outcomes.

Picturing cancer survival: young people’s self portraits of the impact of cancer on growing up

Mooney-Somers, J and Smith, K

The Growing up with Cancer study used multiple methods to explore the effects of a cancer diagnosis during adolescence on young people’s developing identity, relationships, agency, and autonomy. Nineteen young people (16 to 29 years) diagnosed with various cancers and haematological malignancies when aged 10 to 22 years, worked together with a digital media artist to create a self portrait of themselves and their cancer journey. They participated in one or more full day creative workshops and engaged with the artist via telephone, email and online live collaboration software. The period of engagement in creative activities varied from a participation in a single workshop to working with the artist for several months. This process presented an opportunity for young people to reflect on experiences of cancer and growing up.

Nineteen young people produced 21 self portraits using mixed media, graphic, photographic, and musical techniques. The creative process and the resulting self-portraits are far more than simply research data. They standalone as pieces of art to tell a compelling story of the complex and contradictory nature of dealing with a life threatening illness during a time of significant flux, when identity formation is foreground.

We propose to display a suite of five posters (each A0 size) comprising four posters displaying 20 visual self portraits.

Sorry I can’t display the self portraits posters here (yet!).

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