Meaning in life in cancer patients: relationships with illness perception and global meaning changes
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Submission date: 2017-02-13
Final revision date: 2017-04-24
Acceptance date: 2017-05-30
Online publication date: 2017-12-06
Publication date: 2017-12-07
Health Psychology Report 2018;6(2):171–182
Meaning in life seems to play an important role at various stages of coping in cancer patients. It can influence the ways in which cancer patients perceive their illness and potential changes in beliefs and goals. The main aim of the current study is to examine how two dimensions – presence of and search for meaning – are related to illness perception and global meaning changes.

Participants and procedure:
The research was conducted among 231 cancer patients (136 women and 95 men), between 27 and 86 years of age (M = 56.73, SD = 12.64). They were diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer (stomach, colon, pancreas, liver, large intestine). The following research methods were used: the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, the Appraisal of the Disease Scale, and the Scale of Changes in Beliefs and Goals.

Presence of meaning was associated with illness perceptions, changes of beliefs, and changes of goals. In contrast, there were no statistically significant relations between search for meaning and illness perception. The cluster analysis showed that the patients who were in presence style less negatively perceived their illness than those in presence and search style. The former also experienced fewer disruptions in important beliefs and goals than the latter. In addition, the patients in presence style were characterized by less negative illness perceptions and fewer disruptions in beliefs and goals than their compeers in indifferent style.

Having meaning in life is related to a more satisfactory image of the illness and fewer violations in the belief and goal system. Searching for meaning, even though accompanied by presence of meaning, is rather detrimental to illness perception and changes in beliefs and goals. The awareness of having a purpose and overarching aim in life helps cancer patients to interpret and organize their stressful experiences, and perceive the illness from a less negative perspective.

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