Methods: Individual interviews were conducted with 14 young adult survivors (six male and eight female) of childhood cancer who participated in six monthly sessions of prosocial online support groups facilitated by a social worker in South Korea. The support group provided an opportunity to share their experiences with cancer survivorship and provide peer mentoring as a group to children and adolescents recently diagnosed with cancer. Participants’ average age was 22.3 years (SD = 2.4), and the average elapsed time since diagnosis was 8.6 years (SD = 5.4). Most participants had been diagnosed with leukemia, followed by lymphoma. Semistructured questions were developed to explore benefits of participation in the support group.
Results: Thematic analysis yielded four themes related to benefits of prosocial online support groups: (a) being motivated by the need to give back to society; (b) being free from feeling stuck in daily life; (c) being connected to peer survivors with a survivor identity; and (d) gaining valued social roles. Participants were strongly motivated to join the support group because they wanted to pay back what they had received from family and significant others in overcoming the challenges of cancer treatment. Previous face-to-face experiences in advocacy groups contributed to lowering barriers to voluntary participation in online support groups. Participation in these groups encouraged them to get socially unstuck in life and connect with trustworthy peer survivors who shared cancer experiences without stigmatization. They also showed satisfaction with engagement in altruistic activities by sharing their cancer experiences with cancer patients as perceived in-group members, which helped them feel they gained valued social roles and continued their desire for prosocial activities.
Conclusions and implications: This study provided insights into how young adult survivors of childhood cancer can benefit from online prosocial support groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study confirmed that strong motivation to participate in these groups can leverage desire for altruistic behaviors in cohesive social groups. Online prosocial support groups can help reduce social isolation and promote altruistic activities, which can lead to improved quality of life during the pandemic, when social interactions and connectedness are restricted. Future studies are needed to evaluate the impact of prosocial support groups using experimental designs by strengthening group identity as a survivor and emphasizing the benefits of prosocial behavior both in and outside the group among young adult survivors of childhood cancer.