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Positive Change after Cancer

Posted 1/17/2013

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  What we all hope for (in addition to continuing good health) is that something good will come out of our cancer experiences. I will never be one of those people who talk about the "blessings" of cancer. If we can identify some, I think we are demonstrating our own resilience and ability to find positives in the midst of trouble. Generally speaking, people can get used to just about anything, and I think most of us do make a troubled peace with our situation (that may be periodically shattered). Over time, sometimes over a very long time, we are able to see areas of growth and change and some good things that may not have happened without cancer in our lives. Yesterday afternoon my post breast cancer group met, and one lovely woman, who is some years past her difficult experience, talked eloquently about how she believes she is a better person having a better life than she was before cancer. May that be true for us all.

  I have been thinking about this and wondering what has been positive change/growth in my life that might be attributed to my two bouts of breast cancer. Since the first one was twenty years ago (wow!), I am sure that many life changes would have happened through those two decades anyway. I do know that, starting in February 1993, I became a little looser with my normally very tight purse strings and found it somewhat easier to treat myself and to be generally more gentle with myself. I also know that I quickly became less patient and tolerant with irritating situations and people, and have found it much easier to say "no" to things that I don't want to do. More importantly, I have surely learned to most of all value relationships with family and friends and to be so very grateful for the people around me.

  This is all an introduction to a recent article from the European Journal of Cancer that studied positive change in people post cancer. I like this study as it is not a blithe essay about changing perspectives and walking happily on the beach. It is thoughtful and serious and suggests that cancer does give us an opportunity, if we take it, to consider our lives and our choices, and to try to nudge ourselves in a positive direction.

  Here is the abstract and an excerpt and a link to read more:

Promoting positive change in the face of adversity: experiences of cancer and post-traumatic growth

CONNERTY T.J. & KNOTT V. (2013) European Journal of Cancer Care

The increasing population of cancer survivors underscores the need to develop a complete understanding of the survivorship experience, including positive aspects. The aim of this study was to explore people’s experiences of cancer to assess the relevance of the post-traumatic growth (PTG) construct and to identify potentially modifiable factors that may promote PTG. Group interviews were conducted with 15 people (eight men, seven women) aged between 36 and 85 who had been diagnosed with cancer and completed treatment. Participants identified that while a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event and has an immense impact, there is potential for PTG. Participants described examples of positive change within their relationships, perceptions of self and life in general perception, and spirituality. Various modifiable factors were identified as enabling participants to experience growth including social support, finding information, complementary therapy use, lifestyle changes and physical activity. Modifiable factors such as physical activity and searching for information have the potential to influence the development of PTG by providing cancer survivors with an opportunity to regain control. Encouraging and developing research that examines the relationship between modifiable factors andPTG will assist in the development of interventions that address the unique needs of cancer survivors.

Excerpt:

Caveats It is essential to acknowledge that not all cancer survivors experience positive change and growth. People should not be forced or feel pressured to develop these changes as this approach could be damaging to their well-being and  adjustment (Coyne & Tennen 2010). Additionally, it is not yet clear whether survivors need help in developing PTG as many survivors may experience positive change naturally.

It is essential to acknowledge that not all cancer survivors experience positive change and growth. People should not be forced or feel pressured to develop these changes as this approach could be damaging to their well-being and  adjustment (Coyne & Tennen 2010). Additionally, it is not yet clear whether survivors need help in developing PTG as many survivors may experience positive change naturally.

The concept of PTG and our understanding of it are still developing and as such further research is needed to address these pertinent questions.

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