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Experiencing cancer can give rise to existential concerns causing great distress, and consequently drive individuals to make sense of what cancer may mean to their lives. To date, meaning-based research in the context of cancer has largely focused on one possible outcome of this process, the emergence of positive meanings (e.g. post-traumatic growth). However, negative meanings may also be ascribed to cancer, simultaneously with positive meanings. This study focused on the nature of the co-existence of positive and negative meanings in a sample of individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer to find out whether negative meaning had an impact on quality of life and psychosocial adjustment above and beyond positive meaning.
Participants were given questionnaires measuring meaning-made, quality of life, and psychological distress. Semi structured interviews were conducted with a subgroup from the original sample.
Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that negative meaning-made (i.e. helplessness) was a significant predictor of poor quality of life and increased levels of depression/anxiety above and beyond positive meaning-made (i.e. life meaningfulness, acceptance, and perceived benefits). Correlational analyses and interview data revealed that negative meaning-made was mainly associated with physical and functional disability, while positive meaning-made was mostly related to emotional and psychological well-being.
Significance of results:
Meanings of varying valence may simultaneously be ascribed to cancer as it impacts different life dimensions, and they may independently influence quality of life and psychosocial adjustment. The presence of positive meaning was not enough to prevent the detrimental effects of negative meaning on psychosocial adjustment and quality of life among individuals taking part in this study. Future attention to negative meaning is warranted, as it may be at least as important as positive meaning in predicting psychosocial adjustment and quality of life following a cancer diagnosis.
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