Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women (American Cancer Society [ACS], 2016b). Adolescents and young adults (AYAs) as a group have a worse prognosis when compared to older adults (e.g., Tichy, Lim, & Anders, 2013). Due to limited understanding of the biology of cancers for AYAs, inadequate representation of AYAs in clinical trials, and AYAs’ unique psychosocial healthcare needs, the prognosis for this group, as compared to older women, is comparatively poor. One step in addressing the survival gap for AYAs is to explore the developmental and psychosocial factors that shape their illness experiences. This qualitative study explored the illness experiences of women diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 18 and 39 years old. Using a phenomenological approach, 23 breast cancer survivors were interviewed using a semi-structured interview. Findings indicated the centrality of developmental, sociocultural, and psychosocial systems in shaping women's health care experiences. Future studies should explore the ways in which medical providers attend to these systems across the breast cancer trajectory.


Breast Cancer, Psychosocial Healthcare, Qualitative Research

Author Bio(s)

Cameron Froude, PhD LMFT is a postdoctoral behavioral science fellow at the St. Mary’s Family Medicine Residency in Grand Junction, CO. As a fellow, Cameron educates family medicine residents in psychosocial approaches to healthcare, provides direct clinical care to family medicine patients, and coordinates group medical visits. He maintains an active qualitative research agenda exploring the role of medical and social support in individual’s recovery from chronic illness. Additionally, Cameron conducts clinical research on the efficacy of integrated group medical visits in the treatment of medically unexplained somatic symptoms. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: kielycam@gmail.com.

Sandra Rigazio-DiGilio, PhD is a professor in the University of Connecticut’s MFT master’s and doctoral programs. Her scholarship addresses cultural, contextual, integrative, and multidisciplinary competencies in the domains of theory building, model development, training, and supervision and the clinical adaptation of culture and context centered research instruments for interactive assessment and treatment in individual, couple, family, and network therapy. Her work to advance a Systemic Cognitive-Developmental Therapy Model and corresponding supervisory approach is recognized as addressing cultural and community issues, and as organizing traditional and contemporary models while keeping cultural and contextual factors in the forefront of therapy and supervision. Since 2000, she also has been working to identify and operationalize cultural, contextual, integrative, and multidisciplinary competencies and corresponding pedagogical and supervisory methods for the preparation of MFT scientist/practitioners. Dr. Rigazio-DiGilio presents and publishes widely on all of these topics and has co-authored a book on Community Genograms: Using individual, family, and cultural narratives with clients.

Laura Donorfio, PhD has over 18 years experience conducting qualitative research in the fields of intergenerational relationships and aging family dynamics. Presently she is an Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut, Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Prior to this position, Dr. Donorfio was Director of Marketing Research for the Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., conducting primary qualitative and quantitative business related research among company management, AARP members, and older adults. Dr. Donorfio has held various positions in education and aging, including Program Manager of The Travelers Center on Aging, and visiting faculty appointments at The University of Connecticut Health Center, Central Connecticut State University, and The University of Hartford. She has published articles in the Journal of Adult Development, the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, and the Journal of Safety Research. She has worked on several national grants through the Administration on Aging, including the development of aging curricula for Connecticut secondary schools, early retirement among Connecticut AARP members, and the identification of supportive service needs for older adults living in federally assisted housing. In 2009, Dr. Donorfio was awarded the Distinguished Teacher Honor by the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Keith M. Bellizzi, PhD, MPH, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut (UConn) with a joint appointment in the Center for Public Health and Health Policy. Prior to joining UConn, Dr. Bellizzi was a Health Scientist in the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and a graduate of NCI's Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program. He is Editor of the Cancer and Aging Handbook: Research and Practice and Associate Editor of the journal, Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy and Research. His research focuses on the role health behaviors play in attenuating late health effects of cancer; understanding the psychosocial needs and quality of life of adult cancer survivors and their families; and resilience and posttraumatic growth in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis. Dr. Bellizzi's research has been published in high impact journals and his work and service has received national and international press coverage, including the Washington Post, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Australian Financial Review, and Yomiuri Shimbun (Tokyo). He is the recipient of the 2008 Lorraine Wetherell Distinguished Alumni Award, The 2009 American Psychosocial Oncology Society "New Investigator" award, as well as being recognized as one of UConn's "40 under 40" Outstanding Graduates. Dr. Bellizzi is a 16-year, two-time cancer survivor who uses his experience as a survivor and researcher to impart knowledge and help those dealing with a cancer diagnosis. In 2005, Dr. Bellizzi rode his bike 3,300 miles across the United States with Lance Armstrong and 24 other cyclists as part of the 2005 Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope Team. He regularly speaks nationally and internationally about his experience and research.

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