This research fills a gap in the area of long-term cancer survivorship. Historically, cancer survivorship among older adults was relatively rare. However, advances in cancer treatment along with more general increases in longevity mean that cancer survivorship among older adults will be a significant aspect of later life for more individuals.
The research on cancer survivors that does exist typically has not examined the range of physical, social, and psychological effects that can continue even decades after recovery. Older adults, because of other co-morbid health conditions and later life stressors, represent a particularly vulnerable group in terms of diminished quality of life. Yet, most older adults who survive cancer often lose many of the sources of social and medical support they had available to them during their illness. The CSRP is engaged in examining the patterns of support and the effects of those patterns on long-term survivors’ adjustment to the disease and its continuing sequelae.
The research conducted by the CSRP also represents significant conceptual developments. It utilizes the general stress and coping paradigm that has long been used in research on the effects of illness. Additionally, it combines the perspectives of extreme stress theory and identity theory to examine the effects of cancer on this uniquely vulnerable group of survivors. While only a small proportion of cancer survivors exhibit traumatic stress symptoms, the presence of sub-clinical levels of post-traumatic stress disorder need to be addressed. The CSRP is one of the first studies to address these issues. A major emphasis of the CSRP’s work has been on how the development of the “survivor identity” buffers the individual from some of the more profound effects of cancer. While identity theory has been adapted to the study of illness, the project’s research will be the first explicit test of identity issues and survivorship as related to long-term psychosocial distress. Other key aspects of the research address the ways that personal dispositions such as coping style and health beliefs, along with proactive behaviors such as health promotion and marshalling social and health care support, can buffer cancer survivors from chronic stressors associated with cancer survivorship.