Resilience among patients across the cancer continuum: diverse perspectives.

Each phase of the cancer experience profoundly affects patients' lives. Much of the literature has focused on negative consequences of cancer; however, the study of resilience may enable providers to promote more positive psychosocial outcomes before, during, and after the cancer experience. The current review describes the ways in which elements of resilience have been defined and studied at each phase of the cancer continuum. Extensive literature searches were conducted to find studies assessing resilience during one or more stages of the adult cancer continuum. For all phases of the cancer continuum, resilience descriptions included preexisting or baseline characteristics, such as demographics and personal attributes (e.g., optimism, social support), mechanisms of adaptation, such as coping and medical experiences (e.g., positive provider communication), as well as psychosocial outcomes, such as growth and quality of life. Promoting resilience is a critical element of patient psychosocial care. Nurses may enable resilience by recognizing and promoting certain baseline characteristics and optimizing mechanisms of adaptation.

Affiliation

School of Medicine at the Seattle Children's Hospital, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington.

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Each phase of the cancer experience profoundly affects patients' lives. Much of the literature has focused on negative consequences of cancer; however, the study of resilience may enable providers to promote more positive psychosocial outcomes before, during, and after the cancer experience. The current review describes the ways in which elements of resilience have been defined and studied at each phase of the cancer continuum. Extensive literature searches were conducted to find studies assessing resilience during one or more stages of the adult cancer continuum. For all phases of the cancer continuum, resilience descriptions included preexisting or baseline characteristics, such as demographics and personal attributes (e.g., optimism, social support), mechanisms of adaptation, such as coping and medical experiences (e.g., positive provider communication), as well as psychosocial outcomes, such as growth and quality of life. Promoting resilience is a critical element of patient psychosocial care. Nurses may enable resilience by recognizing and promoting certain baseline characteristics and optimizing mechanisms of adaptation.

Promoting resilience is an aspect of psychosocial care that affects patient and whole-family well-being. There is little consensus about how to define or promote resilience during and after pediatric cancer.
The aims of this study were (1) to review the resilience literature in pediatric cancer settings; (2) to qualitatively ascertain caregiver-reported perceptions of resilience; and (3) to develop an integrative model of fixed and mutable factors of resilience among family members of children with cancer, with the goal of enabling better study and promotion of resilience among pediatric cancer families.
The study entailed qualitative analysis of small group interviews with eighteen bereaved parents and family members of children with cancer treated at Seattle Children's Hospital. Small-group interviews were conducted with members of each bereaved family. Participant statements were coded for thematic analysis. An integrative, comprehensive framework was then developed.
Caregivers' personal appraisals of the cancer experience and their child's legacy shape their definitions of resilience. Described factors of resilience include baseline characteristics (i.e., inherent traits, prior expectations of cancer), processes that evolve over time (i.e., coping strategies, social support, provider interactions), and psychosocial outcomes (i.e., post-traumatic growth and lack of psychological distress). These elements were used to develop a testable model of resilience among family members of children with cancer.
Resilience is a complex construct that may be modifiable. Once validated, the proposed framework will not only serve as a model for clinicians, but may also facilitate the development of interventions aimed at promoting resilience in family members of children with cancer.

Some cancer survivors report positive subjective changes they describe as "life transforming." We used a grounded theory approach to identify the content, underlying process, and identifying characteristics of self-defined "life-transforming" changes (LTCs) reported by 9 cancer survivors. To actualize their hopes for improvement, participants used a self-guided process centered on pragmatic action: researching options, gaining experience, and frankly evaluating results. Many participants discovered unanticipated personal abilities and resources, and those became highly useful in coping with other challenges apart from cancer. This made the increased personal abilities and resources "life transforming" rather than being substantially limited to reducing cancer-related problems. The action-oriented features and processes of LTCs seemed to be more fully described by experiential learning theory than by posttraumatic growth and coping. Supportive intervention to facilitate positive change processes could decrease suffering and enhance positive psychosocial and spiritual outcomes for cancer survivors.

The psychosocial function of parents of children with cancer can impact the well-being of the entire family. Resilience resources are likely related to psychosocial outcomes and may be amenable to intervention. We hypothesized that parents with lower resources would report worse outcomes.
In the "Understanding Resilience in Parents of Children with Cancer" study, comprehensive surveys were mailed to consecutive, English-speaking parents of children with cancer who were treated at Seattle Children's Hospital and completed therapy between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. Resilience resources were measured by the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale; outcome measures included psychological distress, health-related behaviors, social and family function, and perceived communication with the medical team.
Ninety-six parents (86% of contactable) completed the survey. Compared to population norms, enrolled parents had lower resilience resources, higher psychological distress, and more commonly reported binge drinking. Conversely, they reported higher social support and family adaptability (P < 0.001-0.006). Lower resilience resources were associated with higher distress, lower social support, and lower family function (P < 0.001-0.007). Parents in the lowest quartile of resilience resources had higher odds of frequent sleep difficulties (OR 5.19, 95% CI 1.74,15.45), lower health satisfaction (OR 5.71, 95% CI 2.05,15.92), and decreased ability to express worries to the medical team (OR 4.00, 95% CI 1.43,11.18).
Parents of children with cancer are at risk for poor psychosocial outcomes and those with low resilience resources may be at greater risk. Interventions directed at promoting resilience resources may provide a novel and complimentary approach toward improving outcomes for families facing pediatric cancer.

Over the past decade, research has documented the positive consequences individuals attribute to the experience of traumatic, life-threatening events, including enhanced life appreciation, improved social relationships, and a deepened sense of self and meaning. Despite evidence that individuals with cancer frequently perceive growth as a result of their experience, personal growth in the context of advanced cancer has received markedly less attention. In light of the unique challenges accompanying the experience of advanced cancer, the phenomenon of perceiving positive consequences and making meaning of the cancer experience (i.e., personal growth) may be distinct in patients with life-limiting disease as compared with more commonly studied early-stage cancer survivor samples. The purpose of this article was to review studies examining personal growth in adults diagnosed with advanced cancer to encourage medical professionals to consider and respond to their concerns around meaning within palliative care. We conducted a systematic review of the PubMed and PsycINFO electronic databases for studies examining personal growth in patients with advanced cancer published between January 1960 and January 2013. Of the 197 studies reviewed, 12 quantitative studies and 10 qualitative studies met criteria for inclusion. The review revealed that many patients with advanced cancer both cite finding meaning at the end of life as important and perceive positive consequences as a result of their experience. In comparison to early-stage cancer or benign disease, advanced cancer may serve to prompt higher levels of personal growth. However, these findings are mixed and may indicate a complex, nonlinear relationship between cancer prognosis and personal growth. The most promising candidates for promoting personal growth during advanced disease include younger adult age, spirituality, and psychosocial resources (optimism, marriage, and social support from close others and health care providers). Importantly, a co-occurrence of personal growth with both distress and well-being in advanced cancer suggests that personal growth in this unique context is characterized by perceived positive consequences in the face of considerable demands, which may be reflected by greater negative and positive markers of adjustment. Understanding and awareness of personal growth in individuals with advanced cancer may facilitate health care providers' ability to consider and respond to concerns around meaning and personal growth within palliative care, given the growing literature on psychosocial interventions for patients with advanced cancer. Integration of the existing research base with intervention development is an opportunity for future research.

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Affiliation Details

  • School of Medicine at the Seattle Children's Hospital, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington.
  • School of Medicine at the Seattle Children's Hospital
Affiliation School of Medicine at the Seattle Children's Hospital, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington.