This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Psychology Lecturer
Studies Cancer Patients
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: March 3, 2000

EAU CLAIRE — In her research titled "Social Support, Mood and Hope in Cancer Patients and Their Families," University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire psychology lecturer Mickey Crothers hoped to discover which "relationship ingredients" were most effective in helping cancer patients cope with their illness.
Crothers' study focused on the social support system and the quality of life of cancer patients and their families. The two main areas of study were the patients' levels of hope and the patients' affect — or mood — when dealing with cancer.
Crothers worked with Toby Ellison, a family counselor at Sacred Heart Regional Cancer Center, in finding subjects to participate in the study. Subjects were informed briefly of the study and asked if they were interested in more information. If they expressed interest, Crothers met with each person to discuss the details of the study. After the subjects agreed to participate, Crothers set up an appointment time to meet with each of them in their homes. During this time Crothers interviewed each patient and one primary caregiver using three separate questionnaires. The cancer patient and caregiver were interviewed individually. Both were asked questions regarding their hope, mood and nature of the social support relationship. Crothers had a sample size of 84 people — 42 cancer patients and 42 caregivers.
Crothers' findings were somewhat unexpected. She predicted that patients who were satisfied with the support provided by their caregivers would experience higher levels of hope and more positive moods than patients who were dissatisfied with their support would. This was found to be true, but Crothers said, "Surprisingly, almost everyone in the study was happy with the support they received."
Even though her sample did not include a substantial dissatisfied comparison group, Crothers learned many things from this study. She discovered what needs were most important to the cancer patients and to the families. She found that the feelings of belonging and acceptance were most important. Another thing she learned was that patients were satisfied with support as long as it met or exceeded their support needs. The extra support was not necessary but was appreciated.
The research is Crothers' doctoral dissertation through Ohio University. She hopes to use what she learned as a tool to teach other cancer patients and their families positive coping skills. She also may continue her research — possibly by studying the feelings, hopes and difficulties of the caregivers, as well as the children of cancer patients.
Crothers became interested in this topic after a close friend died of breast cancer. She learned that in families where one person had cancer, the patient sometimes felt pressured to express only positive emotions. The patient might want to talk about the fears and anxieties he or she had, but family members might discourage such topics and want the patient to "think positively." However, family members might also have unspoken fears about the illness but would not want to "burden" the patient with their concerns and negative emotions.
"Sometimes people get into a pattern of expressing only positive emotions," Crothers said. "They find themselves frustrated and may have coping problems because they have no outlet for emotions such as fear, anger or anticipatory feelings of loss and grief."
Many people have helped Crothers with her research. During 1998 and 1999, Heather Tomter and Maggie Brooks, 1999 UW-Eau Claire graduates, worked on this project as part of the UW-Eau Claire Student/Faculty Collaborative Research program. In addition, approximately twelve other students have assisted in the project. Dr. Katherine Schneider, a senior psychologist at UW-Eau Claire Counseling Services, served as the clinical consultant for the project. Catherine Roraff, assistant professor of Library Services, assisted with the analyses. Dr. Bill Applebaugh, associate professor of mathematics, was the applied statistical consultant.
Crothers said her research has provided her with a great deal of insight and knowledge. She said she has learned that care, support and love are extremely important.
"Whatever the outcome of the cancer may be, improving the day-to-day quality of life of patients and their families should be considered an essential part of treatment," Crothers said.

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: March 3, 2000