Adolescents and young adults (or AYAs), aged between 15 and 25 years old, are in a unique transitional phase, characterised by establishing identity and gaining independence. Accordingly, a diagnosis of cancer has the obvious potential to interrupt normal AYA development. Approximately 900 Australian AYAs are diagnosed with cancer each year, an average of 2 to 3 per day, making it likely that many healthy AYAs will at some point be in the position of supporting a friend with cancer. Previous research with AYAs with cancer has revealed psychosocial support from friends to be a crucial unmet need, with friends cited as the source of social support which is most often absent or unhelpful during the cancer journey. However, research to date has not investigated the perspectives of their healthy friends’, resulting in a lack of understanding from both sides. Therefore, this study aimed to fill this gap by investigating healthy AYA’s knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of supporting a friend with cancer.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
Firstly, it was hypothesised that healthy AYAs’ cancer knowledge would be associated with their attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer. Secondly, it was hypothesised that healthy AYAs’ health self-efficacy would be associated with their attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer. Thirdly, it was hypothesised that healthy AYAs’ attitudes towards seeking professional psychological support would be associated with their attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer.
Eligible participants were aged between 15 and 25 years, able to read and write English, and not have a current cancer diagnosis. The final sample consisted of 206 Research Experience Program participants (70.87% females), aged between 17 and 25 years (M = 19.27, SD = 1.60).
Participants completed an online cross-sectional questionnaire. Participants’ attitudes towards supporting friends were assessed with two measures: (1) Attitudes towards providing social support and (2) Perceived importance of providing support. Correlational analyses were performed to identify factors related to attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer. Those of significance (p ⩽ 0.05) were examined using multiple regression models to determine their predictive value. Responses to the open-ended questions were analysed with inductive qualitative content analysis.
Pearson’s r correlations revealed that cancer knowledge and seeking professional psychological help were significantly associated with the outcome variable attitudes towards providing social support. These factors were included together in a multiple regression model which significantly predicted attitudes towards providing social support (adjusted R2 = 0.11, (F(2, 203) = 13.9, p < .001). Both cancer knowledge (β = .18, p = .007) and seeking professional psychological help (β = .30, p < .001) remained significant, explaining 11% of variance in attitudes towards providing social support. Attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help was the only measured predictor variable that significantly predicted perceived importance of providing support was attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help. A single linear regression model revealed that positive attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help (β = .35, p < .001) significantly predicted greater perceived importance of providing support and explained 12% of the variance in perceived importance of providing support (adjusted R2 = .12, F(1, 204) = 28.67, p < .001). Health self-efficacy was not associated with attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer. The inductive qualitative content analysis identified three categories relating to the perceived psychosocial impacts of cancer for AYAs: (1) psychological and emotional issues; (2) social and personal issues; and (3) the impact on ‘normal’ life. Two categories relating to types of support required by AYA cancer patients were identified: (1) supportive care needs, with a particular focus on psychological and social support; and (2) maintaining normality. Two categories were identified describing challenges in supporting friends with cancer: (1) helping the friend with their challenges; and (2) managing one’s own challenges.
Results from the quantitative and qualitative analyses show that although AYAs may hold positive attitudes towards supporting friends with cancer, various perceived challenges may prevent them from providing this support. These results may help to explain why AYAs with cancer often experience an absence of friends after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Results indicate a need for university-based education programmes which provide healthy AYAs with information and skills for overcoming challenges they face when supporting a friend with cancer. Planned communication of results will be in the form of an honours thesis and a short conference presentation.