The psychosocial impact of breast cancer varies widely across patients and over time. Greater insight into goal-based coping processes theorised to underpin psychological resilience may inform efforts to support the maintenance and recovery of psychological wellbeing in the context of breast cancer treatment and recovery. This prospective study adopted a qualitative descriptive design to better understand the nature of situational goal-based coping in response to personal goal interference encountered across the six months following surgery for early-stage breast cancer.
Responses to specific instances of goal interference were derived from semi-structured interviews conducted at three time-points following surgery (i.e., approximately two, four, and six months post-surgery). Thematic and cross-case analytic techniques were utilised to identify broad patterns across the goal-specific response trajectories.
Three broad response patterns were identified – goal-based coping only, combined goal-based coping and other (i.e., informed waiting and/or passive) responses, and informed waiting and/or passive responses only. Specific response patterns were further identified within each category. The majority of response trajectories incorporated the utilisation of assimilative and/or accommodative goal-based coping.
Early-stage breast cancer patients utilised goal-based coping in response to many instances of goal-specific interference encountered during the study period. While the initial or delayed activation of these processes appeared generally adaptive, there was also evidence of maladaptive coping and blocked goal pursuit. Further insight into the nature of adaptive and maladaptive goal-based coping in this context could help oncology nurses facilitate ongoing personal goal pursuit and psychological resilience across the cancer continuum.