To what extent does meaning mediate adaptation to cancer? The relationship between physical suffering, meaning in life, and connection to others in adjustment to cancer

Carrie Lethborg, Sanchia Aranda, Shelley Cox, David Kissane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: This study builds on previous work that explored the lived experience of meaning in advanced cancer. The aims were to explore the associations of suffering (physical and existential distress) and coping (via social support) with psychological distress and global meaning using a battery of instruments among adults attending an Australian metropolitan cancer service (n = 100). Methods: The contribution of suffering and coping via social support to psychological distress and meaning were examined using a variety of statistical methods. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to further examine relative contributions to both psychological distress and global meaning. Results: Physical and existential distress were found to be positively associated with psychological distress whereas high social support and personal meaning are related to lower levels of psychological distress. Social support was the strongest correlate of global meaning whereas high levels of existential distress were related to lower levels of global meaning. On the basis of this study, it is concluded that the factors related to suffering clearly promote psychological distress, and the reverse is true for global meaning for those living with cancer. Significance of results: This study speaks to the clinical complexity of the dynamic experience of suffering and meaning in cancer. We need to better understand the impact of physical suffering and meaning in the lives of this population and to actively work toward the enhancement of social support and connection with others for this group. Optimal palliative and family-centered care blended with therapies that promote a sense of meaning of life lived appear crucial to ameliorate suffering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-388
Number of pages12
JournalPalliative and Supportive Care
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007


  • Adjustment to cancer
  • Meaning
  • Palliative care
  • Social support
  • Suffering

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