Original Paper

Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 174-186

First online:

A longitudinal study on the role of spirituality in response to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

  • Terry Lynn GallAffiliated withSaint Paul University Email author 
  • , Elizabeth KristjanssonAffiliated withUniversity of Ottawa
  • , Claire CharbonneauAffiliated withSaint Paul University
  • , Peggy FlorackAffiliated withWomen’s Breast Health Centre, Ottawa Hospital

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This longitudinal study addressed the role of spirituality in women’s response to breast cancer. Ninety-three women diagnosed with breast cancer were assessed on various measures of image of God, positive attitude, social well-being and emotional distress at pre-diagnosis, 6 months post-surgery and 1 year post-surgery. As compared to women who dropped out of the study, this sample reported religion to be less important in their daily lives. Path analyses showed evidence of direct and indirect effects of positive and negative images of God on emotional distress in cross-sectional but not longitudinal data. A positive image of God was related to greater concurrent distress while a negative image of God was indirectly related to greater distress through the pathways of social well-being and positive attitude. In the longitudinal path model, a pre-diagnosis measure of religious salience was the only aspect of spirituality that predicted an increase in distress at 1 year post-surgery. The cross-sectional analyses provided limited support for the “religious/spiritual mobilization” hypothesis as put forth by Pargament (The psychology of religion and coping. New York: Guilford Press, 1997). There was also limited support for the mediator variables of positive attitude and social well-being as mechanisms through which spirituality influences adjustment. Finally, there was no support that spirituality acted in a protective manner rather the negative elements of spirituality were more prominent in relation to various aspects of women’s adjustment to breast cancer. Such results suggest that women who were less spiritually/religiously involved prior to the onset of breast cancer and who attempt to mobilize these resources under the stress of diagnosis may experience a negative process of spiritual struggle and doubt that, in turn, has implications for their long-term adjustment.


Breast cancer Spirituality Religion Coping