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Positive and negative meanings are simultaneously ascribed to colorectal cancer: Relationship to quality of life and psychosocial adjustment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2013

Aldo Aguirre Camacho
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Sheila N. Garland
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada Department of Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Celestina Martopullo
Department of Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Guy Pelletier*
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada Department of Oncology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada Department of Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Guy Pelletier, Department of Psychosocial Resources, Alberta Health Services and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Departments of Oncology and Psychology, University of Calgary, Holy Cross site, 2202 – 2nd St. SW, Calgary, Alberta T2S 3C1, Canada. Email:



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.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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