Self-disclosure, self-identity and illness centrality after cancer: the experiences of young adult cancer survivors

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University of New Brunswick


Cancer can have a profound effect on the well-being of individuals at any age; however, young adults often face additional challenges due to the disruption of many normative developmental tasks associated with this stage in life. One of the most significant tasks associated with young adulthood is the establishment of meaningful relationships. However, many young cancer survivors experience social isolation after treatment and find it difficult to relate to their peers who have forged ahead on the road to independence, careers and families. Self-disclosure, the expression of personal details about oneself, is an essential component of interpersonal relationships and is often viewed as a necessary prerequisite for social support and preventing social isolation. For young adult cancer survivors, disclosing details about their cancer history can be particularly challenging at a crucial developmental stage in life when both personal and professional relationships are just being established. This study provides an in-depth look at the experiences of young adult cancer survivors, their motivations for self-disclosure, and the sense of identity that develops as they attempt to reintegrate back into the social world after the completion of cancer treatment. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, 28 telephone interviews were conducted with young adults from across Canada diagnosed between the ages of 18-39 with the two most common types of cancer in young men (testicular) and women (breast). This dissertation is presented in three manuscripts. The first manuscript is based on the study methodology and highlights the challenges and opportunities for incorporating reflexivity throughout the research process. The second manuscript focuses on the motivations for cancer history disclosure described by the young survivors in this study and some of the situational/contextual factors influencing their disclosure decisions.The third manuscript highlights some of the ways in which young adult cancer survivors (re)construct, redefine, and/or embrace their identities post-cancer and how they situate their cancer experience within their overall self-concept. This dissertation will be useful in the development of support programs and informational resources related to communication and interpersonal relationships after cancer that are tailored to the unique needs of young adult cancer survivors.