Hope and Despair : Philosophy of life, expectations and optimism in cancer patients and their spouses

Abstract: The general aim was to explore philosophy of life, expectations and optimism in patients and spouses in two different cancer situations, and to determine whether these aspects had relevance for psychological distress and quality of life. The first situation was being newly diagnosed with advanced cancer. Data on philosophy of life, optimism and psychological distress were gathered on one occasion (I). In addition, changes in life were described using a qualitative approach in a sub-sample (II). The second situation was having completed curative cancer treatment. Data on expectations for the recovery period, optimism, psychological distress and quality of life were gathered on three occasions (III). Moreover, expectations and how these turned out were described using a qualitative approach in a sub-sample (IV). The results show that being diagnosed with an advanced cancer influenced aspects of patients’ and spouses’ philosophy of life, including that existential questions were common and were related to higher psychological distress (I). All experienced substantial mental changes in life, often also physical, practical and sometimes positive changes. Patients more often seemed to accept their situation and prepared themselves for death, whereas spouses had more difficulties in handling the situation (II). Patients who had completed curative treatment generally had higher expectations for the recovery period than did their spouses, and patients expectations were fulfilled to a lesser degree, however, this generally had little importance for psychological distress or quality of life (III). Patients’ expectation for their recovery period was generally that they would get well. For those whose recovery period had been tough, expectations were often unfulfilled, but they were often satisfied with their current life anyway owing to positive changes (IV). Being optimistic was the most beneficial for decreased psychological distress in both samples, as well as for better quality of life in the recovery group (I, III).