Coping with changes and uncertainty: A qualitative study of young adult cancer patients' challenges and coping strategies during treatment.

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Abstract

Young adult cancer patients (YACPs), aged 18-35 years when diagnosed with cancer, are in a vulnerable transitioning period from adolescence to adulthood, where cancer adds a tremendous burden. However, YACPs' challenges and coping strategies are under-researched. The objective of this study was to explore what challenges YACP experience during their treatment, and what coping strategies they applied to them. We conducted a qualitative study with a phenomenological-hermeneutic design, including retrospective, semi-structured interviews of 16 YACPs who had undergone cancer treatment. Data were analysed using thematic analysis and interpreted applying the Cognitive Activation Theory of Stress (CATS). We found "coping with changes and uncertainty" as overarching topic for YACPs' challenges, particularly related to five themes, including (1) receiving the diagnosis, (2) encountering the healthcare system, (3) living with cancer, (4) dealing with the impact of the treatment and (5) reactions from the social network. YACPs' coping strategies applied to these challenges varied broadly and ranged from maladaptive strategies, such as neglecting the situation, to conducive emotional or instrumental approaches to manage their challenges. The findings call for age-specific needs assessments, information and support for YACPs, and their families in order to facilitate YACPs' coping during their treatment.

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