Resiliency and Agentic Acts within the Emerging Adult Cancer Survivor Community


Joining the AYA Cancer Program as an intern in January has been the perfect next step in my cancer journey.

I had no idea or inclination when I was diagnosed at the age of 25 with Hodgkin Lymphoma that I would become an advocate for young adults diagnosed with cancer.

That experience impacted me both personally and professionally, putting me on a different career path from the travel industry to the world of young adult oncology.  Now my focus is to spread awareness of and to young adults in an effort to empower and increase the psycho-social support so sorely lacking for this demographic.

In pursuit of a Master’s degree in Intercultural Relations, I conducted a study of nine individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 16 and 29.  Young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer are truly their own cultural group, forming a community based on a personally lived experience that can then be shared and understood in the social sphere.  Having been diagnosed with cancer as young adults, we know what the experience entails even if we have different diagnoses and personalities; we share a bond.

One of the most compelling insights provided from my study, The Oft Overlooked: Resiliency and Agentic Acts within the Emerging Adult Cancer Survivor Community, was noting all of the acts young adults employ to empower themselves and gain back some of the control over their life that they lost after receiving a cancer diagnosis.  Fitness and Nutrition played a large role both as a way to regain physical strength after treatment as well as increase mental strength by helping individuals develop a better self-image.

Advocating for one’s self in front of doctors and nurses also emerged as one way young adults gained some of the authority over their bodies that had been handed over to the medical establishment after being told they had cancer.  Questioning or requesting personalized tailoring of how treatment is administered such as asking for a certain type of needle for a blood draw underscored that patients know their bodies’ reaction to treatments and can contribute to decisions regarding their health care.

The choice to use humor as a coping mechanism, as a way to talk about cancer and process the cancer experience as well as putting cancer in its place highlights a strength within the young adult cancer community.  We choose to smile, laugh, and joke so while the drugs are fighting the cancer within us, our humor is defeating the influence cancer can have on our lives.

Rachel Murphy-Banks is currently interning at the Reid R. Sacco AYA Program at Tufts Medical Center. We thank Rachel for sharing her story. If you should have any questions for Rachel or about our AYA Program, please contact us at ayaprogram@tuftsmedicalcenter.org.

5 Responses to “The Oft Overlooked”

  1. Lorraine

    Rachel, talk about empowerment and strength, I am humbled by your courageous story. The Reid R Sacco AYA Cancer Alliance is so very grateful that you will be bringing not only your education but your life experience to our AYA patients at the clinic.

  2. Rachael Sacco

    It’s amazing to me that when faced with a life-changing event, some can rise to such a level of greatness. Thank you for your personal story and the fact that you have “walked the walk” and know about cancer on a personal level.

  3. Greg Peterson

    Research like this is such an important step in furthering the dialogue about cancer, both within and outside of the community. The work you have done and are contributing to, Rachel, will no doubt illuminate the groups who have been overlooked and assure that regardless of diagnosis age, resources and allies will be more easily accessible in the future. Being able to count on that sense of community will hopefully allow young adults diagnosed with cancer to focus more wholly on engaging in agentic acts that make the road to recovery easier to travel. Keep up the good work, and thank you for sharing!

  4. Susan Ocitti

    Thank you for sharing Rachel. The most important take away from
    ThIs, is to realize that culture is presented in many different forms; and we can be part of several different cultural groups. This is a group that deserves that recognition!! Great job!!

  5. Sarah Driscoll

    Rachel, your passion and commitment are evident in your research! What’s really wonderful is that you’ve not only given voice to those who share the bond, but you’ve also allowed those not part of the community to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences. Keep up the great work!


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