Objective: For people with advanced cancer, the months
preceding death can be very stressful. Moreover, cancer-related stressors
can arise within multiple dimensions. However, little research has
examined how people cope differentially with different types of stressors.
The goal of this study was to examine patterns of coping across different
dimensions of stress.
Method: Fifty-two patients who were receiving palliative care
for cancer were asked to indicate their most significant stressors within
social, physical, and existential dimensions. A structured interview was
then conducted to describe how the participants coped with these
Results: Overall, stressor severity ratings were correlated
significantly across the three dimensions, although physical symptoms
received the highest mean rating. Participants generally used a range of
coping strategies to deal with their stressors, but there were clear
differences across dimensions in the relative use of problem-focused
versus emotion-focused strategies. Problem-focused coping was less
frequent for existential issues, whereas emotion-focused strategies were
used less frequently for physical stressors. Coping efforts were not
clearly related to psychological distress.
Significance of results: Although coping is an important
research theme within psycho-oncology, it may be overly broad to ask,
“How do people cope with cancer?” In fact, different
cancer-related stressors are coped with in very different ways. There is
not necessarily any particular pattern of coping that is best for
relieving psychological distress.