Graduate Student Profile - Alexandra Dupont (Psychology)
Research on Breast Cancer Survivors
Do intrusive thoughts about the breast cancer experience contribute to the fatigue and sleep difficulties that some survivors continue to report, years after treatment? If so, does the presence of social support or social constraints have an impact on that relationship? These were the questions that Alexandra Dupont spent the summer investigating, with support from a Graduate Summer Research Mentorship award.
Looking at data from the Moving Beyond Cancer study, which followed over 400 breast cancer survivors for 12 months after their cancer treatment, Alexandra found that level of intrusive thoughts within four weeks of treatment completion did not predict physical symptoms, but did predict "psychological symptoms like increased depressive symptoms six months later." The presence or absence of social support had no impact on the relationship between intrusive thoughts and depressive symptoms. But, social constraints—being in "a social environment that doesn’t allow them to talk about their cancer experience"—may be associated with worse outcomes, she says. That raises a new question: "Does talking with others and expressing emotions buffer the negative effects of intrusive thoughts?"
Alexandra’s results were not what she expected, but they nevertheless make a contribution to ongoing research about the psycho-social and biological mechanisms underlying lingering symptoms in breast cancer survivors. They also give her a very good start on her master’s thesis, allowing her to take more coursework this fall.
The GSRM provided a "really awesome opportunity, the first time I could focus entirely on my research," Alexandra says, and a chance to experience what it would be like to be a full-time research professor," the ultimate goal of her doctoral studies in health psychology.
Besides checking in weekly with her mentor, Associate Professor Julienne Bower, Alexandra also met regularly with a collaborative team looking at younger breast cancer patients and their struggles. The summer experience showed her that while "having the time for research is really nice, it’s also important to collaborate with others so you don’t feel isolated with your project."
Published in Winter 2011, Graduate Quarterly