Poster Presentation Joint 2016 COSA and ANZBCTG Annual Scientific Meeting

Coping with personal goal disturbance in the context of breast cancer: key findings and implications (#298)

Natalie Stefanic 1 , Don C Iverson 2 , Peter Caputi 3 , Lisbeth Lane 4
  1. Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  2. Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, VICTORIA, Australia
  3. School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia
  4. Oncology Unit, Wollongong Hospital, Wollongong, NSW, Australia


Breast cancer presents unique challenges and demands that can disrupt or completely block the pursuit of important personal goals. Previous research has documented the use of goal-related coping strategies among cancer patients.

Aim: To gain insight into the nature of adaptive and maladaptive coping with personal goal disturbance following surgery for breast cancer. 


The study was a prospective, mix-methods design, involving semi-structured interviews with 32 female non-metastatic breast cancer patients at two, four and six months post-surgery. A novel situational assessment method captured goal-specific sources of interference and coping responses over time. Thematic and cross-case analytic techniques were used to characterise adaptive and maladaptive response patterns.


Participants exhibited four types of responses to personal goal interference – assimilative coping, accommodative coping, informed waiting, and passive responses. There was evidence of both adaptive (i.e. minimised interference and continued goal pursuit following coping response) and maladaptive (i.e. ongoing interference and blocked goal pursuit following coping response) response patterns over time. Facilitators and barriers to adaptive goal-related coping were also identified.


The nature and efficacy of coping with personal goal disturbance varied across personal goals and over time among this sample of breast cancer patients. The novel situational assessment and analysis method afforded insight into adaptive and maladaptive coping responses to concrete instances of goal disturbance.