How women psychologically experience their diagnosis of breast cancer and its subsequent treatments

Mäkinen-Martindale, Merja (2019) How women psychologically experience their diagnosis of breast cancer and its subsequent treatments. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Qualitative research methodology (drawing on the psychoanalytic interview method and metapsychology) was used to understand how women psychologically managed their breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments. The purpose of the research was to explore what the women’s psychological reactions were linked with.

Clinical observation in an NHS Hospital’s Breast Unit showed that the level of psychological distress amongst breast cancer patients often bore little or no relationship with the stage or prognosis of their illness. The research question was developed that if it was not the severity of physical illness or extent of treatment, then there could be some other factors, in a woman’s life, which may determine the level of her distress. The purpose of this research was to explore, from a psychoanalytic point of view, these underlying, less obvious factors. Previous literature has concentrated on specific stages of illness, treatment or personality traits but failed to further investigate any additional underlying issues in a woman’s life that her distress may be linked with.

This study was given an ethical approval from NRES (REC). Ten women with newly found breast cancer were each offered four individual semi-structured interviews in different stages of their treatments. The data was managed in two ways. The first method investigated the whole illness process and what kind of psychological issues the different stages provoked in the patients as a group. The data was organised by NVivo software into five main categories according to thematic contents: ‘Being Diagnosed’, ‘Having Treatments’, ‘Getting Support’, ‘Losses Endured’ and ‘Longterm Impact of Breast Cancer’. These main categories were divided into subcategories. The second method extracted short case summaries of individual patients. A questionnaire collected demographic information.

The results strongly indicated that a loss of breast (or a part of it) provoked emotional connections with earlier unresolved losses and loneliness. Recommendation: these risk factors should be examined in patients with disproportionate distress, using short questionnaires, therapeutic consultations and staff members should be offered opportunities to develop ‘listening skills’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: psychoanalysis, underlying factors for psychological distress, psychoanalytic interview method, free association method, previous losses & loneliness
Subjects: C800 Psychology
L700 Human and Social Geography
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Nursing, Midwifery and Health
University Services > Graduate School > Professional Doctorate
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2020 14:23
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2022 12:00

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