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Keywords:

  • disease trajectory;
  • ovarian cancer;
  • psychological well being;
  • quality of life

Abstract

BACKGROUND

This report offers a unique analysis of the psychological distress associated with ovarian cancer in a review of natural correspondence between ovarian cancer survivors and an ovarian cancer newsletter.

METHODS

A review of 21,806 letters, cards, and e-mails reflecting correspondence from January 1994 to December 2000 between ovarian cancer survivors and the founding editor of Conversations!: The International Newsletter for those Fighting Ovarian Cancer was performed using ethnographic qualitative research methods. Statements related to the impact of disease were bracketed and coded within physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains according to the City of Hope Quality of Life Ovarian Cancer instrument. Statements that reflected psychological well being were then evaluated with respect to the disease trajectory (i.e., diagnosis, treatment, remission, recurrence, and advanced disease/end of life).

RESULTS

A total of 1282 communications were identified that pertained to psychological well being. Findings based on major themes derived from the analysis included descriptions of stressors associated with disease status. Significant stressors were identified within all phases of diagnosis, treatment, remission, and recurrence. Women described both positive and negative effects of disease and frequently demonstrated resourcefulness and perseverance by sharing coping mechanisms and survival strategies.

CONCLUSIONS

The natural correspondence from women with ovarian cancer provided a rare opportunity to capture the psychological concerns of women throughout all stages of the cancer trajectory. Health care professionals' awareness of the common psychological stressors throughout the ovarian cancer trajectory may allow them to identify more readily the needs for support, leading to improvement in overall quality of life. Cancer 2003;98:1061–71. © 2003 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.11291