A qualitative study of adolescent cancer survivors perspectives on social support from healthy peers – A RESPECT study

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Background: Adolescents’ psychosocial development is generally influenced by their peers. Those facing hospital-based cancer treatment are particularly challenged as they are isolated from their social network and lack sufficient coping resources. 

Aim: This study explores the adolescent cancer survivor's perceptions and experiences with healthy classmate socialization support efforts via hospital co-admittance, from diagnosis to reinstatement in school, as an intervention of the RESPECT (REhabilitation including Social and Physical Activity and Education in Children and Teenagers with cancer) Study. 

Design: A phenomenological, descriptive study. 

Methods: Using variation sampling, 14 adolescents (aged 14–19), who completed the RESPECT intervention (April 2016–July 2017), participated in qualitative, in-depth, semi-structured interviews that were thematically analysed. 

Findings: Four themes emerged: (a) Ambassadors as liaison persons; (b) Ambassadors as promoters of normalization and identity continuity; (c) Ambassadors as ‘behind the scenes’ friends; and (d) feelings of vulnerability and inferiority. Ambassadors reinstated a sense of normalcy in the adolescents’ daily life. They supported identity construction and served as liaison persons who buffered loneliness and social isolation as well as bridging a continued sense of belonging to one's school peer network. In contrast with other peers, ambassadors understood cancer-related issues, knowledge which they partially gained witnessing the impact of treatment-related side effects on their hospitalized classmates. However, the consequence of this trade-off was an asymmetry in their relationship, with the adolescents requiring a certain level of safeguard from their ambassadors to maintain equal power in the relationship. 

Conclusion: The ambassadors enhanced the adolescents’ ability to cope with their altered social position during treatment and to psychosocially reinstate it on their return to school. Impact: Future interventions should offer opportunities for healthy peers to be educated in what it means to live with cancer. Future programs to sustain socialization in adolescents with cancer should involve healthy peers for the entirety of the treatment period.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1911-1920
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • Adolescents, Cancer, Nursing, Paediatric, Peers, Psychosocial aspects, Qualitative, School, Social interaction, Social support, Survivorship

ID: 255882115