Having cancer can be an isolating experience. National Cancer Institute data show that more than 87,050 young adults (YAs) in the United States received a cancer diagnosis in 2022; 85% of whom are expected to survive their cancer for 5 years after diagnosis.1 Most young adults who have completed treatment reported suffering from mental health conditions related to their experience with cancer.

Some of the common challenges after a cancer diagnosis include learning how to manage side effects of treatment, changes to body image, loss of identity, loss of income/employment, and adapting to all the changes that occur from the moment they learn of their diagnosis. Although many challenges make the experiences of young adults complex, support systems are one of the major factors that contribute to how young adults cope with cancer and how they adjust to survivorship.2

Importance of Friendships and Support Systems

Continue Reading

Social support and friendships are essential parts of life and human development. From the moment we are born, we strive to connect. It usually begins with seeking connection and safety from parents, and throughout the course of development it expands to peers, figures of authority, friends, and romantic partners.3 Friendships allow people to connect, feel a sense of belonging, and form a sense of identity. Having friendships and support systems allow people to feel less isolated and more secure to navigate life challenges.

A study of adult development completed by Harvard University demonstrates that friendships impact a person at a physiological level. The study’s findings show that our ability to connect with others releases a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone plays a role in how we cope with stressful situations, providing a calm and soothing response as opposed to the fight-or-flight response associated with fear.4 Young adults who have a strong network of support, including friends that provide comfort throughout treatment, have shown to have had a better recovery outcome than those who had limited support from friends.

Impact of Loss in Friendships During the Survivorship Journey

Young adults are usually in the stage of development where achieving intimacy in relationships is a main milestone of concern before moving on with other stages of development. But when they have cancer, their lives are filled with drastic changes in their body and their day-to-day life. Going through cancer treatment is a traumatic event that impairs a person’s ability to cope or self-regulate their emotions by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone that increases blood pressure and heart rate.

Constant release of cortisol has physical effects that can also affect recovery time from cancer treatments.2 Young adults with cancer experience many drastic changes that may leave them feeling isolated and lacking a sense of belonging when they perceive a lack of support from close friends, peers, or familiar support systems.