Research Profile: Resiliency in Young-Adult Cancer Survivors

Dr. Mary Procidano, clinical psychologist and associate professor, is on the forefront of the latest psychology research, focusing on contemporary culture and influences on human development.

Her research, Motherworks, investigates working mother’s collaboration between work and home life and behaviors that exhibit their resilient development. In addition to Motherworks, Dr. Procidano is working with Fordham psychology students, Zoe Sanders, Ava Gagliardi, Tessa Santarpia, Dakota Hernandez, Emily Sullivan, and Matt Manzione to examine pathways to resilient development in young-adult survivors of cancer.

The research focused on young-adults, ages 18-30, who have experienced traumatic health challenges while at the same time achieving mature identities. Part of the research also centered on understanding the process of post-traumatic adjustment; thus, persons interviewed have been in remission for at least six months.

Mary ProcidanoWhen asked what the most unexpected finding has been thus far, Procidano emphasized the importance of associating positive meaning to negative or transitional experiences. Using the information from recorded interviews and self-reported questionnaires evaluating “self-defining” experiences along seven dimensions of positive or negative meaning, the conclusions astonished Procidano.

“The positive meanings of ‘high points’ did not predict adjustment,” Procidano says. “On the other hand, attributions of positive meanings (e.g., enhanced sense of personal agency, deepened relationships, post-traumatic growth) to self-defining low points and turning points did predict current positive affect and life satisfaction.”

The research does indicate a correlation between high intensity of familial support and association of positive meanings to their self-defining memories. Conversely, experiences of little-to-no familial support during periods of traumatic health resulted in negatives meanings to self-defining memories as well as a diminished positive affect and life satisfaction.

“Part of the premise of this study is that we experience meaning in relational contexts; so interpersonal support tends to enhance positive meaning, while nonsupport enhances negative meanings,” Procidano says. “Poignantly, perhaps, we tend to suffer more from negative meanings and nonsupport, than we are uplifted by positive meanings and support.”

The results of this project ultimately suggest that psychotherapies should be attentive to the complexities of how people construct and reconstruct the meanings of important, self-defining moments during low points and transitional periods, such as those experiences of young-adult cancer survivors.

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