The social impact of early psychological maturity in adolescents with cancer
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OBJECTIVE: There is a growing need to assess the long-term quality of life (QOL) of pediatric oncology patients since many children now survive their disease. This paper highlights the subjective perspectives of pediatric cancer patients and specifically explores how experiencing cancer at a young age impacts adolescents in the areas of social functioning, peer relationships, and QOL. The findings emerged from a qualitative research study that explored how pediatric oncology patients ascribe meaning to their illness. METHODS: Study participants were recruited from four Canadian academic pediatric hospitals. In this study, we used an interpretative description approach. Semistructured interviews were completed, transcribed verbatim, and coded through the method of constant comparison. RESULTS: A total of 37 children and adolescents (n = 19 female; 51%) participated. The majority of participants were diagnosed with leukemia (n = 16; 43%) or lymphoma (n = 9; 24%). Sixty-two percent of participants were adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 years (n = 23). Data illustrated a unique adolescent experience, which has been reported as a subset of the original population. Adolescent participants noted an accelerated experience of maturation, which invited reflections of gratitude as well as feelings of isolation and disconnect from peers. Participants were saddened to have "missed out" on normative parts of childhood. CONCLUSION: Findings highlighted experiences of accelerated maturity that prompted adverse social outcomes for adolescent participants, which impacted their QOL. Future research is needed to explore the intersection of accelerated maturity attributed to illness, social functioning, and QOL. Peer support through technology engagement is suggested for this population.
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