Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Nursing were recently awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, for the Breast Cancer Survivors and Partners Online Research Together (SUPORT) project, which will study the effectiveness of compassion meditation to reduce stress and anxiety for breast cancer survivors and their supportive partners.
Evidence suggests that breast cancer survivors often experience increased anxiety, stress, fatigue and social isolation many years after the end of their cancer treatments. Family members who live with breast cancer survivors, including husbands, wives, significant others, partners and adult children, also experience similar quality-of-life changes.
“There is neuroscience research showing that people who meditate over time can actually change their brains and the way their minds work,” says principal investigator Thaddeus Pace, PhD, associate professor in the UArizona College of Nursing. “Cognitively-Based Compassion Training in particular may be really ideal for improving survivors and supportive partners distress because of the way it may change how their minds work, especially in challenging and stressful situation that we all encounter in our social world.”
Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) was developed at the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University. Unlike other meditation programs that focus solely on mindfulness, CBCT is focused on how an individual interconnects with other people, building an ethos of compassion and well-being for the person and for others.
“The idea for this project came from our earlier work with Cognitively Based Compassion Training with breast cancer survivors several years ago,” Dr. Pace says, adding that researchers including Terry Badger, PhD, RN, Eleanor Bauwens Endowed Chair and professor in the UArizona College of Nursing and UArizona Cancer Center member, have studied the importance of supportive partners for the well-being of cancer survivors for years.
“There is neuroscience research showing that people who meditate over time can actually change their brains and the way their minds work," ~ Thaddeus Pace, PhD, UArizona College of Nursing associate professor
“We wanted to expand our use of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training for survivors and partners together,” Dr. Pace says.
Study participants will attend weekly CBCT sessions or Cancer Health Education classes for 10 weeks. Both groups will receive the training online in a format similar to internet-based group exercise classes. Survivors and their supportive partners can participate from anywhere with an internet connection and a computer or large tablet.
While previous studies utilizing meditation have been done in person, the pandemic inspired Dr. Pace and his colleagues to look at a new model utilizing video conferencing systems to expand access.
“The pandemic has made everyone more comfortable with using systems like Zoom, and we started to think it would be really interesting to create a program through Zoom,” Dr. Pace says. “We conducted a pilot study with survivors and partners that worked relatively well, so this project is a continuation of that on a larger scale, allowing survivors and supportive partners to participate coast to coast.”
“The pandemic posed the great challenge of learning how to successfully deliver compassion training online,” says Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, executive director of the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University. “What started as a challenge quickly became a blessing. We have been able to share on a larger scale and offer to more people than ever before. Collaborating with UArizona Nursing on this novel research project will allow us to combine new insights with previous studies and learn even more about how to benefit cancer survivors and the supportive partners.”
Interested in participating in the study? Click here.
This research is supported by the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (R01CA264047).