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The objectives of this study were to evaluate, in the Italian cultural context, breast cancer patients’ main meaning themes related to the experience of the disease, on the one side, and to be part of an existentially oriented group intervention, on the other.
A short reorientation-existential (RET) group intervention, structured by using some tools and background from cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) and based on the meaning-centered psychotherapy (MCP) existential framework, was delivered to 29 breast cancer patients. The sessions were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim, with the narratives from reflective exercises (meaning of the journey cancer, meaning of the journey of intervention) uploaded to computer software NVivo 11. Analysis of the transcripts emerged from reflective exercises on the personal meaning of cancer and the letters of meaning (goodbye letter) written by the patients to express the meaning of their experience in the group was conducted through the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) framework.
Four superordinate themes were identified in the exercise meaning of the experience of cancer, namely “sense of stigma and loneliness (the foreigner),” “guilt (unjust guilt and anticipatory guilt),” “reconsidering one's own life and nostalgia,” and “rebirth (a new life, life after life).” Three superordinate themes were found in the meaning of the group experience in the letters, namely “togetherness and gratitude,” “legacy,” and “acceptance.”
Significance of results
The study confirmed that a short group intervention, based on the existentially oriented framework and delivered in a public clinical healthcare setting, was enriched by focusing on the personal meaning of cancer. Some themes, such as loneliness, nostalgia, and rebirth, emerged during reflection giving, in written letters to participants, the sense of the group therapeutic experience.
As a part of a European study, we cross-culturally examined the rate of emotional distress and maladaptive coping and their association with cancer patients' satisfaction with their interactions with the physician responsible for their care.
Cancer patients (n = 302) from one Middle European (Austria) and two Southern European (Italy, Spain) countries completed the NCCN Distress Thermometer (DT), the Mini-Mental Adjustment to Cancer (Mini-MAC) Anxious Preoccupation (AP) and Hopelessness (H) sub-scales, and the Physician Patient Satisfaction with Doctors Questionnaire (PSQ).
The prevalence of emotional distress (DT caseness) was 60% (26.1% mild, 18.8% moderate, and 14.9% severe distress). Maladaptive coping (Mini-MAC cases) was found in 22.8% (hopeless cases), and 22.5% (anxious preoccupation cases). PSQ-MD was significantly correlated with Mini-MAC/H and Mini-Mac/AP, while PSQ-PS was negatively correlated with Mini-MAC/H. DT cases and those with higher levels of hopelessness reported higher scores on PSQ-MD and lower on PSQ-PS than non-cases. Some differences were found between countries both as far as patients' coping and perception of the interaction with doctors. In hierarchical multiple regression analysis, after adjusting for socio-demographic and medical variables, Mini-MAC/H significantly predicted the scores on PSQ-MD (positive direction) and PSQ-PS (negative direction).
Significance of results:
The study confirms that about one out of three cancer patients have moderate to high level of emotional distress and about one out of four, clinically significant maladaptive coping. Also, patients showing hopelessness and distress tended to perceive their doctors as both disengaged and less supportive. These results highlights the need for physicians to monitor their patient's level of distress and coping mechanisms and to adjust their own relational and communication style according to patients' psychological condition. Also, cross-cultural issues should be taken into account when exploring psychosocial variables and cancer patients' perception of and satisfaction with the interaction with their doctors.
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