Learning What Works From Women Coping with Chemotherapy

Susan OBrien Lymphedema patient

Health psychology is a field that typically focuses on factors that make a patient’s outcome worse. OSUCCC – James researcher Kristen Carpenter, PhD, on the other hand, is interested in the strategies that women use when they cope well during harsh chemotherapy treatments. “We want to learn what helps the folks who do well during treatment,” says Carpenter, who is an assistant professor of Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry and of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The study, supported by a Pelotonia idea grant, aims to assess participants’ personality, tendency toward optimism, and general coping styles, as well as their propensity to depression, anxiety and stress. Patients will be evaluated before they begin chemotherapy and then several times during treatment to learn what symptoms they experienced and how they coped with them.

“Results from several studies in breast cancer have suggested that optimistic patients do a bit better through treatment,” Carpenter says. “Our goal is to investigate the role of optimism and other dispositional variables to ascertain how they might facilitate better outcomes.” Carpenter and her collaborators hope this information will provide insight into whether coping strategies that work well for an optimistic person can work just as well for someone who is less optimistic.

One phase of the study involves patients completing a daily journal entry of their symptoms and the strategies they used to feel better, to distract themselves or to otherwise offset the problem. “We want to learn what works best and for whom, and how we can develop an intervention that makes sense in the long run,” says Carpenter. “We want to translate that into something that will foster better treatment outcomes for patients.”

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