BUFFALO, N.Y. -- What goes through a woman's mind when she first
hears the words, "You have breast cancer"? One in eight women will
hear those words at some point in their lives and yet very little
research has been conducted about women's thoughts at this early
stage before treatment or surgery.
The ways women move from becoming a "breast cancer patient"
immediately after diagnosis to integrating cancer into their
understanding of themselves is revealed in a new study published in
one of the nation's top nursing journals, Cancer Nursing, by
University at Buffalo researcher, Robin Lally, PhD, RN, an
assistant professor in the UB School of Nursing.
"The effect of a cancer diagnosis on a woman's self concept is
not something that health care providers often consider when they
are focused on the physical aspects of the disease and treatment
early after diagnosis," Lally explains.
reveals how women acclimate to their diagnosis as they adapt to a
new world, a foreign environment, in which there are new roles and
new people with a new culture and strange words.
The study found that "threatened self-integrity" -- the threat
to how we know ourselves -- is the main concern for women as they
acclimated to being "breast cancer patients" or "survivors." The
women's self-integrity also was threatened by how they perceived
others' impressions of them and by whether they attributed
developing cancer to their own actions or inaction.
From the findings, Lally has developed a theory of acclimating
to breast cancer that focuses on three stages to the initial
adjustment process: surveying the situation, taking action and the
Her findings may help health providers better understand the
thought process of women as they come to grips with the meaning of
breast cancer in their lives as early as a week or two after
discovering they have the disease.
"These women should know they are not alone in their thinking,
that their initial thoughts are not abnormal; they are shared by
others in the early days after being diagnosed," Lally says.
For the study, Lally interviewed 18 women aged 37 to 87
diagnosed with stage 0 to stage II breast cancer. The women were
interviewed within six to 21 days after the diagnosis and were
asked to think back to the day they were diagnosed with breast
cancer and share their experiences.
Essentially, according to Lally, women will work through a
period of internal reflection about how breast cancer will affect
them and those around them ("I have something that others dread"),
to taking control of their immediate environments (reducing
negative thoughts and using distraction) to incorporating cancer
into their lives and contemplating the future.
In fact, many women in Lally's study embraced personal change
and saw the diagnosis as "a wake-up call" to appreciate life and
the people in it. For the most part, women felt optimistic and
hopeful that they would survive their cancer, Lally says.
At the end of the study, Lally was surprised to discover the
"amount of mental energy that women expend when thinking about
their diagnosis and strategies to control their environment" as a
way to protect themselves from uncomfortable moments that arise
when they are the "cancer patient" in social and work
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.