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Adopting a survivor identity after cancer in a peer support context



The term cancer survivor can refer to individuals from diagnosis through the rest of their life. However, not all people with cancer identify as a survivor, and underlying factors and correlates are yet to be well-explored empirically.


Study 1 surveyed men in a prostate cancer peer support network (n = 514), exploring psychosocial variables related to adopting a survivor identity. Study 2 interviewed 160 women with breast cancer in an online support group and collected observational data, assessing how survivor identity relates to perceptions of and participation in online support groups.


For men, survivor identity (35 %) was related to lower levels of threat appraisal (p = .000), more deliberate rumination (p = .042), gaining greater understanding of cancer experience through peers (p = .041) and a higher, though marginally significant, level of posttraumatic growth (p = .052). Women adopting a survivor identity (50 %) had higher rates of online support group posts (p = .048), a greater feeling of mattering to the group (p = .002), rated the group as more helpful (p = .004 to .01) and had less difficulty in relating to the group (p = .002) than women not identifying as a survivor.


Survivor identity was related to active and positive engagement with peers, and cognitive processing.

Implications for cancer survivors

While the cancer survivor metaphor may be salient for some people diagnosed with cancer, many did not associate with the term, highlighting the complexity surrounding survivorship discourse and the need to be sensitive to unique individual needs in psychosocial interventions that involve groups.

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