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Linkages Among Empathic Behaviors, Physical Symptoms, and Psychological Distress in Patients With Ovarian Cancer: A Pilot Study

Michelle M. Lobchuk
Sonia Anwer Bokhari
ONF 2008, 35(5), 808-814 DOI: 10.1188/08.ONF.808-814

Purpose/Objectives: To explore linkages among empathic responding by informal caregivers with the physical symptom experiences and psychological distress of patients with ovarian cancer.

Design: Preliminary, descriptive, correlational, and cross-sectional.

Setting: Psychosocial oncology support group in Canada.

Sample: Convenience sample of 13 women with stage I-IV ovarian cancer with the majority diagnosed with disease recurrence.

Methods: Data were collected on a single telephone call using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Empathic Responding Scale, the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale, and the Dyadic Perspective-Taking Scale. Analysis included a correlation of variables.

Main Research Variables: Empathic responding, physical symptom experiences, and psychological distress.

Findings: Preliminary findings provided partial support for linkages among the perceived empathic behaviors of informal caregivers and the psychological distress and physical symptom experiences of patients with ovarian cancer. Patients who were more depressed reported elevated symptom experiences. Patients also reported more anxiety and depression when they perceived that their informal caregivers were engaging in less empathic behaviors toward them.

Conclusions: The empathic behavior of informal caregivers toward patients appeared to be related to lower levels of anxiety and depression in patients with end-stage ovarian cancer.

Implications for Nursing: Clinicians need to be aware that anxiety and depression in patients with ovarian cancer appear to be related to the patients' physical symptom experiences and the degree of empathic support the patients perceive from their informal caregivers. This has implications for clinical assessment of patients' anxiety and depression, physical symptoms, and available empathic social support.

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