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Cancer patients sought for card-sorting study

Nicole Cameron – 

‘Are you wearing a wig?’ is the kind of question that a young person with cancer might be asked. Whether it makes them feel embarrassed or supported depends on how the question is delivered and interpreted.

I am seeking about 30 people aged between 16 and 25 years who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer to take part in a card-sorting task in which participants are required to group similar kinds of social interactions.

I will collate the results of the card-sorting exercise to form a multi-dimensional model to map the emotional interactions of young people with cancer.

Social support

Using the model, I want to find out more about communication experiences, needs and sensitivities of young people with cancer. The findings will form the basis for producing information that will help families, friends and health professionals provide the right kinds of support for young people with cancer.

Social support is an essential part of a person’s experience with cancer. But social support can be both positive and negative, and unfortunately the latter can be detrimental to a person’s physical and psychological health.

Examples of comments and reactions the participants might have experienced and are being asked to sort are: “Over-protective of me”; “Told me, ‘You’ll be fine’’’; “Whispered about me”; “Assumed that now treatment is over I am fine”; “Commented that I look good”; and “Shared their own experiences with cancer.”

I would like to find out, for example, if participants believe practical assistance and concerned questions have a similar emotional impact, of if they rate questions about their treatment as similar to questions about their bodies, or consider these to be different concepts.

Personal experience

My desire to research this topic was sparked by my own experiences as teenage cancer patient, and awareness of the unique challenges for people in this age group in dealing with what can be a life-threatening condition during a significant time of their development.

My study addresses the social aspects of cancer in the context of youth development, when self-consciousness about body image, emerging sexuality, emotional turbulence and peer pressure are keenly felt. Being diagnosed and treated for cancer, and managing visible side effects (such as hair loss, weight gain and disfigurement), can add another whole dimension to the turmoil of youth, she says.

Understanding relationships

The model that will be created from the responses will help to provide an understanding of the relationships between interactions in a similar way to how a globe represents the approximate distances between countries, she says.

An understanding of these relationships should support researchers to apprehend the role and importance of psychosocial interactions to adolescents and young adults who experience cancer.

I know from experience what it is like when people unintentionally say the wrong thing, or do not know what to say when talking to a young person with cancer.

Adolescence and youth can be tricky enough with normal developmental changes to deal with; and with uncertainty, fear and loneliness of coping with a cancer diagnosis including such things as the physical impact of chemotherapy on a young person’s emerging identity and self-esteem and youth can be extremely hard period to navigate.

There is so much going on in these years – you are focused on growing up, finding your identity, sorting your education goals, independence, relationships. And there are huge physical changes. Cancer interferes with all of that.

While organisations such as ‘CanTeen’ provide valuable support, not all young people seek their help. Young people in rural areas and small towns in particular may feel isolated and unsupported and it is important that all young people with cancer are provided with the support that they need.

The card-sorting test takes about one hour to complete. Participants will receive the material via post, and after completion participants will receive a $20 gift card.

Nicole Cameron is a Psychology doctoral student at Massey University. She is seen here with the cards designed for her project.

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