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Healing stories: Narrative characteristics in cancer survivorship narratives and psychological health among hematopoietic stem cell transplant survivors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 August 2013

Maya Benish-Weisman*
University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Lisa M. Wu
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
Sarah L. Weinberger-Litman
Marymount Manhattan College, New York, New York
William H. Redd
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
Katherine N. Duhamel
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
Christine Rini
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Maya Benish-Weisman, Counseling and Human Development, The University of Haifa, Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. E-mail:



Survivors of hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) have experienced a life threatening and potentially traumatic illness and treatment that make them vulnerable to long lasting negative psychological outcomes, including anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, studies show that overcoming cancer and its treatment can present an opportunity for personal growth and psychological health (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and high levels of emotional well-being) through resilience. However, research has not yet clarified what differentiates HSCT survivors who experience psychological growth from those who do not. By analyzing recovery narratives, we examined whether HSCT survivors’ interpretation of their experiences helps explain differences in their post-treatment psychological health.


Guided by narrative psychology theory, we analyzed the narratives of 23 HSCT survivors writing about their experience of cancer treatment. Psychological health was measured by: (1) emotional well-being subscale part of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Bone Marrow Transplant (FACT-BMT), (2) depression, and (3) anxiety subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory.


Findings revealed a positive relation between psychological health and a greater number of redemption episodes (going from an emotionally negative life event to an emotionally positive one) as well as fewer negative emotional expressions.

Significance of the results:

Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed, showing how narratives can inform interventions to assist cancer survivors with their psychological recovery.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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