The impact of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and community factors on the identity formation of young adults with cancer: a qualitative study


Correspondence to: Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. E-mail:



The purpose of this study was to examine how young adult cancer patients make sense of their experiences with cancer.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients at an urban tertiary care center


The sample for this study included 15 young adult cancer survivors. The ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 30 years. The sample was 67% female (n = 10) and 33% male (n = 5). The sample was 87% Caucasian (n = 13) and 13% Hispanic (n = 2). Fifty-three percent of the participants were between ages 18 and 23 years (n = 8), and 47% of the participants were between ages 24 and 30 years (n = 7). Three themes emerged from the data: intrapersonal change, interpersonal interactions, and role and identity in the hospital and the community. As they inevitably lose control in their lives, young adult patients seek to return to a familiar lifestyle that they consider as ‘normal’. The formation of a revised identity and redefined set of norms allows the patients to regain control and express their individualism.


This study contributes to our knowledge of the experiences of young adult cancer patients and survivors. The findings serve to inform young adults, caregivers, and health professionals on coping with illness and its aftermath. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.