Thesis topic: supporting cancer patients with emotional turbulence

What is the problem I will be focusing on and why is it a good topic for thesis?

I will focus on supporting cancer patients with their emotional turbulence especially when they are diagnosed initially. 

I think it is a good topic for thesis because -

Firstly, It is a wide-ranging issue. “In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and about 39.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer of any site at some point during their lifetime.” The emotional turbulence from being diagnosed would effect on quite a number of people’s life.

The other reason is for individual, the emotional turbulence has influence on symptom perception, treatment outcomes and quality of life. 

According to the research: 

  • “About 20–40% of cancer patients have reported significant levels of depressive mood and anxiety, and these patients typically have reported higher frequency and severity of clinical symptoms, including pain, fatigue, poor appetite and sleep disturbance.” 
  • “In animal models of cancer, stress was found to decrease the efficacy of or resistance to chemotherapeutic agents.”
  • “Mood disturbance is correlated with poor quality of life on physical, functional, social, emotional aspects ”and their relationship with doctors.”


What makes this issue fit into the context of social innovation?

The issue is based on a big healthcare system and it influences 39.6% men and women and their family’s life. People who affected by this issue not only the cancer patients, but also their family, friends, doctors, nurses and social workers. The intervention could be measured by the contrast of patients emotional feelings and whether they can truly accept the diagnosis or not.


What communities will I be looking to engage?

I’m trying to engage with cancer support communities to get in touch with cancer patients and survivors. I agree with Maggie’s suggestions before, to find some cancer survivors who wrote articles or shared their stories online, they would be more open to talk about their experience. And recently I found one cancer survivor whose name is Ashford. She shared her journey on blog with me and I’m trying to keep in touch with her. I still try to reach out some support groups on facebook, twitter and, got few feedback and some refusal. I will keep doing that and I also plan to print some flyers and post them up in oncology hospital and everywhere to find cancer patients and survivors to talk with. 

What are some research approaches or concept forms you are interested in experimenting with during the thesis process?

One-to-one interview and focus group. These two approaches I want to experiment most. One is for talking about more personal experience and feelings, the other is to find common problems as a group. 


Research activities I did this semester and what key insights I learned from them.

My thesis topic has been changed a little during this semester, at the beginning it was about hospice care and understanding of death, and my target group was cancer patients. So I went to Hospice of New York organization and interviewed the workers there. 

Now my thesis target audience is still the cancer patients, but I adjusted the topic direction to the emotional turbulence when cancer patients are diagnosed initially. For these few weeks, my main research approach is desk research to get more knowledge background and some basic information. I found that there are many groups, organizations doing relative research in this area and most of them are really helpful. 

Some key insights I learned from research:

  • According to the Cancer Experience Map (experience timeline), in the diagnosis stage, the single most important behaviour for patients is to accept the diagnosis. 
  • In the diagnosis stage, the pain point for cancer patients is that they would feel shock and crisis, feeling betrayed by their body, feats of incapacitation and death, and how do they tell people. 
  • People feel stressed to be positive.
  • The stress comes from emotional turbulence and physical uncomfortable influence the treatment outcomes.


Research activities I will be engaging in over the summer. What questions will I be looking to answer or get more information on?

For the next few months, I’ll try to find the answer about what factors effect the emotional turbulence, what emotions the patients would have, and what ways to deal with it. 

I’ll get in touch with cancer support groups, interview as many cancer patients and cancer survivors as I can. At the same time I also need to get in touch with oncologist, psycho-oncologist, and social workers to help me filling the gap which I might miss in my knowledge background. 


What do I think will be the hardest part of my thesis topic and how am I addressing it?

I think the hardest part of my thesis topic is to reach out my audience, not only the the most important audience - cancer patients and survivors, but also doctors, nurses and social workers. Because my thesis topic is sensitive and I don’t know any person who has cancer in US. 

I talk about this with some people recently, and Yena, a second year student, gives me a suggestion that since the topic is a little bit sensitive, maybe I should try to ask a lot of my friends if they know some patients and introduce me to them. I will still try to reach out some people online but maybe this way would help me to build a relatively strong relationship with cancer patients and survivors so that I can continually get in touch with them in the following one year. 

If I find someone to interview, I want to ask these following questions:

  • What kind of cancer do you have and in which stage?
  • How long time have you had cancer?
  • Do you remember how the doctor said the diagnosis result to you? Can you describe the experience to me?
  • How did you feel at that moment?(Do you have the emotional turbulence?)
  • How did you feel at the first week after being diagnosis? How did the result influence your life?
  • Where did you find the strongest emotional support?
  • What was your family’s reaction when they knew you have cancer?
  • How did you go through that difficult process?
  • Do you want to share any story with me about this journey?