Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Public Health



First Advisor

Dr. Graham D. Rowles


Gerontological scholarship has often focused on the ways older adults deteriorate or decline with time, but it is plausible that positive change continues into and throughout old age. Late-life psychosocial growth may even be facilitated by a life-altering event such as a cancer diagnosis, a phenomenon broadly termed posttraumatic growth (PTG). PTG has been examined in a variety of general population samples, but there is a noticeable lack of research on PTG that focuses on older adults—a population for whom cancer diagnoses are particularly prevalent. Using a mixed methods design, this dissertation was designed to advance our understanding of PTG in older adults with late-life cancer diagnoses.

A population-based random sample of 56 cancer survivors was recruited, primarily, through the Kentucky Cancer Registry. The first Aim was to evaluate posttraumatic change in older adults with cancer by examining PTG and distress. Aim Two related PTG to contemporary theories of late-life transcendence to assess the extent of their covariance. Aim Three addressed the relationship between PTG and well-being, and Aim Four explored how primary coping strategies (emotion-focused, problem-focused, and meaning-focused coping) predict PTG.

The findings for Aim One indicated that older cancer survivors reported less PTG with age. No other demographic or clinical characteristics were associated with PTG. Aim Two determined a strong correlation between PTG and transcendence, but the two constructs were found to be distinct. Aim Three showed no statistical association between PTG and well-being. Finally, Aim Four revealed a relationship between problem-focused coping and PTG, even though older adults endorsed significantly more emotion-focused coping. Additional participant insights revealed an emphasis on faith, acceptance, and the importance of supportive others.

This study revealed few associations between participant characteristics and PTG, suggesting a more nuanced picture of PTG in old age than previously thought. Further, the findings for PTG and transcendence suggest PTG is not simply a hastened form of transcendence, but rather a qualitatively different construct. Finally, open-ended responses highlighted factors not addressed quantitatively, including faith, financial constraints, and the nature and extent of social support, that need to be considered in future research on PTG.

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Gerontology Commons