Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Sarah Daniels



Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology & Research

Committee Chair

Denise Winsor

Committee Member

Alison Happel-Parkins

Committee Member

Karen Kitchens

Committee Member

Victoria Willard


The unique psychosocial needs of adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer are often overlooked or left unmet during treatment (Zebrack, 2011). Self-development is an important task for all AYA, and it is often informed by social interaction (Goffman, 1959). Given that social interaction among AYA occurs in offline and online spaces, the role of social interaction on social media for self-development is curious (Calvin, 2020). But examining this relationship also requires thoughtful attention by researchers to adequately describe the population being studied (Davis et al., 2020). As such, this exploratory sequential mixed methods research study sought to address the following research questions: (1) How do AYA with cancer describe their social interactions on social media since diagnosis? (2) What social and illness factors are most important for self-perception in AYA treated for cancer? and (3) How do stories from AYA with cancer about social interactions on social media inform our understanding of self-perceptions in many AYA treated for cancer? Through semi-structured photo-elicited interviews with 8 AYA with cancer, ages 15-21, patients described social interaction on social media through four themes: (1) enacting active and passive engagement depending on the platform, (2) changing habits due to aspects of treatment, (3) evaluating and protecting self-image, privacy, and time (4) accessing and interpreting the meaning of social support. A building phase of the study revealed that the relevant social and illness variables to consider for this population were changes in engagement habits, both in frequency and in platform preferences, the practical and psychological impacts of cancer, and the complicated roles of social support from off- and online networks. Quantitative exploration of these factors in addition to self-perception scores in a sample of 12 AYA treated for cancer, ages 15-22, reinforced, expanded, and differed from the qualitative findings, demonstrating the importance for future research to examine the relationships between these concepts. Through a process of building side-by-side joint display tables, a mixed method integrative analysis demonstrated that it is important to (1) examine social media engagement habits when studying self-perception in AYA with cancer (2) recognize the individuality among AYA with cancer in the role of social media interaction and in self-perception outcomes and (3) acknowledge the complicated roles of social and illness factors for AYA with cancer. Taken together, the findings from this study importantly demonstrate the need for more research evaluating the relationship between social interaction on social media and self-perception in AYA treated for cancer. Additionally, these findings show the importance for health care providers to incorporate assessment questions about social interaction online when working with psychosocial aspects of AYA cancer care.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest