The American Cancer Society (2015) stated that more than 60,000 young adults, aged 20-39, are diagnosed annually in the United States. This number accounts for approximately 4% of all cancers diagnosed annually in the United States. For this age range, cancer ranks as the leading cause of death for females and second leading cause of death for males (ACS, 2015). Even though survival rates are improving for individuals diagnosed with cancer as children and older adults, survival rates for young adults have not changed much in the past decades. Young adults living with advanced cancers struggle to find hope, purpose, and meaning. They seldom receive opportunities to focus on forward thinking, leaving the development of future goals at the bottom of the list of daily priorities.
This study will explore factors that influence hope and meaning-making in young adults with advanced cancers by reviewing internal and external elements that influence hope, as well as the physical, social, emotional and spiritual stressors individuals experience. The study will focus on males and females, aged 18-39, with stage III or IV cancers, and will take place at the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, and at the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas at Austin. These two facilities have been chosen because they care for diverse populations of young adults with advanced cancer from different ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Results from this study will impact oncology social work practice by providing a more in-depth understanding of barriers young adults with advanced cancer experience in finding hope and meaning and mechanisms they employ to navigate the difficult balance between living and dying. Intervention strategies can be designed to aid the healthcare team in assessing patients’ causes of distress and positive coping mechanisms.