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Couple-Based Mind-Body Intervention Eases Anxiety in Lung Cancer

An advanced lung cancer diagnosis can be extremely stressful for patients and their loved ones, but a couples-based mindfulness intervention may be able to help.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED October 31, 2017
A metastatic lung cancer diagnosis often does not stop at having physical effects. The disease, which comes with high symptom burden, can also negatively affect the psychosocial and spiritual wellbeing of patients and their partners.

To ease this distress, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston created a couple-based mind-body (CBMB) intervention. They tested it on a small group of adult couples, each of which involved a patient with a stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis. The results were presented at the 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium.

The two-week intervention had the goals of cultivating mindfulness, interpersonal connection gratitude and purpose. Depressive symptoms, cancer distress, spiritual wellbeing and sleep disturbances were measured before and after the CBMB intervention.   

The program was broken up into four sessions. The first focused on mindfulness, and involved mindful breathing meditation, non-judgmental meditation and intentional reflection. The couples were then assigned “homework” of daily meditation and intentionality with routine activity.

The next session was about building compassion competency. It involved cherishing the connection of meditation, loving-kindness meditation and emotional sharing. This time, their homework was to record pleasant events, practice daily loving-kindness meditation and set a compassion intention each day.

The third session focused on gratitude. Couples shared positive events that happened, engaged in gratitude meditation and emotional sharing. They were to complete a “three good things” worksheet at home, as well as engage in daily 10-minute meditation and emotional sharing with their partner.

The final session worked on finding purpose. Here, the couples reviewed their homework, reflected on their values, engaged in wise self-visualization and emotional sharing and identified barriers that they might have had, preventing them from living a purpose-driven life.

Overall, the couples found the mind-body intervention to be a helpful tool in improving their quality of life. In fact, 32 percent of couples rated it “useful” and 62 percent said that it was “very useful.” Seventy-five percent said that they “benefitted greatly” with the program. The biggest improvements were seen with patient sleep disturbances, psychosocial distress and partner depressive symptoms.

As reported on the researchers’ poster presentation at the conference, one participant said, “It really brought us closer and taught us to have more purpose with each other.”

Another person said, “Excellent session — good opportunity to reflect on the type of person I am and would like to be.”

A third participant said it was “the most relaxed while awake I’ve been in a good while.” 

After seeing the benefit of the intervention, MD Anderson is now expanding the use and delivering it via video conferencing. Researchers also plan to conduct a larger three-arm pilot study to continue to explore the effects of couple-based, mind-body interventions in patients with cancer.

“Based on this two-part study, the CBMB intervention appears to be acceptable and subjectively useful,” the researchers wrote. “There was also preliminary evidence regarding treatment gains for both patients and partners. A randomized controlled trial is warranted to further examine this supportive care strategy.”
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