Individuals who survive cancer often report how their lives have changed, emotionally, physically and even spiritually. It is well known that people who experience a significant life challenge or adversity adapt in unique ways. Some come through the experience with feelings of loss and a reduced sense of life satisfaction. Illnesses such as cancer, even when in remission, can have residual psychological effects causing fear and worry of relapse among survivors. But many people who go through difficult experiences such as cancer treatment actually gain a more positive perspective on life. This emotional shift is referred to as posttraumatic growth (PTG) and is a phenomenon that deserves further exploration.
In an attempt to understand how a significant health event, specifically cancer treatment, affects PTG, T. Em Arpawong of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California recently examined this dynamic in 114 individuals receiving outpatient care for cancer. The participants completed questionnaires that asked about their adjustment since they began treatment. Arpawong evaluated the levels of physical symptoms and pain and looked closely at both physical and mental quality of life (QOL) indices of the participants. The results revealed that the cancer treatment experience produced positive growth in most of the individuals receiving treatment. Most participants (87%) reported at least one positive life change, and half (50%) reported at least one negative life change, said Arpawong.
The positive changes were associated with mental and physical health even though participants reported poorer QOL due to pain and functioning. One of the largest increases in QOL was due to decreased nausea from the cancer treatments. This suggests that PTG is a malleable measure that can be dramatically impacted by external factors such as medication and mobility. In sum, the results demonstrate that these clients experienced positive PTG more than negative PTG as a direct result of undergoing this life altering experience.
Arpawong, T. E., Richeimer, S. H., Weinstein, F., Elghamrawy, A., Milam, J. E. (2012). Posttraumatic growth, quality of life, and treatment symptoms among cancer chemotherapy outpatients. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028223
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