Resolution of Spiritual Disequilibrium by Women Newly Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

Doris Dickerson Coward

David L. Kahn

ONF 2004, 31(2), E24-E31. DOI: 10.1188/04.ONF.E24-E31

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the experience of restoring and maintaining spiritual equilibrium over a 14-month period by women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

Research Approach: Qualitative approach, longitudinal design.

Setting: Urban breast cancer resource center.

Participants: 10 women initially one to five months from diagnosis, 5 of whom attended an eight-week self-transcendence theory-based breast cancer support group.

Methodologic Approach: Audiotaped interviews conducted within five months of diagnosis, two to three months later, and one year after that. Narratives were analyzed using Colaizzi's phenomenologic approach.

Main Research Variables: Spiritual disequilibrium resolution, breast cancer, self-transcendence.

Findings: Spiritual disequilibrium characteristics, as described in several studies of women with breast cancer, were fear of dying and a sense of aloneness in a struggle to maintain self-identity. Disequilibrium triggered all participants to reach outwardly for information and support from other people and faith resources and to reach inwardly to examine life values. Shortly after diagnosis, and continuing throughout the study period, most participants also reached outwardly to support others and conduct breast cancer advocacy work.

Conclusion: Resolving spiritual disequilibrium for women with newly diagnosed breast cancer means restoring a sense of connection to self, others, and/or a higher power. Self-transcendence views and behaviors evolving over time help women to restore their sense of connectedness, maintain hope for a future, and find renewed purpose and meaning.

Interpretation: An initial breast cancer diagnosis may be associated with spiritual disequilibrium that can be as problematic as the physical effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Women restore equilibrium through resolving their sense of disconnectedness and regaining a positive self-identity.

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