Is delivering a mindfulness course to people with cancer feasible, acceptable and of any benefit? That was the question asked when preliminary meetings in a collaboration between Breathworks, Maggie’s Cancer Centres, and the Health Psychology Department, University of Manchester, began in December 2016.

People living with and beyond cancer often experience many adverse effects of both the cancer itself and the treatment received. Some attend services such as Maggie’s Centres, a charity operating across the UK to support those living with cancer. The partnership team designed and delivered a research project to determine the feasibility of undertaking a future large-scale research study, investigating the effects of running Mindfulness for Health courses at Maggie’s Centres in collaboration with Breathworks for people experiencing the late effects of cancer. Researchers were particularly keen to establish how eligible participants would be recruited, the overall acceptability of the course for both participants and staff, and to take a range of outcome measures to assess feasibility and to produce a preliminary estimate of effects to inform future work.

Thirty participants, recruited by Maggie’s Centre staff, were randomly assigned to three course groups. The courses were taught by senior Breathworks trainer, Andrea, at Maggie’s Centre, Clatterbridge, between March and June 2017. The support of The Breathworks Foundation enabled the course to be delivered at no cost to the participants. Participants were asked to complete questionnaires at baseline, immediately after the course, and at four week and six month follow-ups. All participants, the two Maggie’s Centre staff and the Breathworks teacher were invited for a telephone interview when they were asked about their experience of the course and taking part in the study.

“I liked the coming together once a week with other people that you didn’t have to be jolly and happy…and it felt like a nice safe space.”


“It was good to be in a group of people who are sharing the same sort of anxieties and issues…you’re not on your own then…that’s reassuring.”

Maggie’s Centre provided a familiar and welcoming location for the course, and participants found the group format an important and beneficial feature. There was an excellent relationship between the Maggie’s Centre staff and Breathworks, the fruit of work undertaken prior to the courses starting, establishing a connection and gaining an understanding of the Centre and its ethos, which itself is highly congruent with the Breathworks approach.

“[The teacher] managed to touch all of us, she was very sympathetic, her approach was nice and calm so she was perfect, she delivered it extremely well.”

Results from questionnaire measures looking at the impact of the course on a range of physical and psychological symptoms were encouraging and overall, participants reported fewer symptoms and felt they could manage these better.

Many participants shared they sometimes felt overwhelmed by worry, rumination and repetitive thoughts, often related to the stress of receiving their diagnosis and being ill, and some described feeling guilty about focusing on their own psychological wellbeing. The course helped challenge these unhelpful thought patterns and bring some space for these difficult feelings.

“I have actually got that change in mindset a little bit…learning to put myself first was a very difficult obstacle to overcome…I think I have learnt to do that a little bit more.”


“The opportunity to take time out to meditate and to focus on what was going on for me, I thought that was really useful.”

Incorporating home practice into everyday lives was challenging for some participants, but others found it very helpful. Overall, participants clearly valued the course and many shared enduring positive changes.

“I think all this is just as important as getting the physical treatment itself.”


“Now I would say that I have tools to meet problems.”

The study demonstrated that it is both feasible and valuable to undertake much larger scale work investigating the potential effects of the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course for people living with the late effects of cancer, which the teams hope to fund in 2020. In the meantime, the team will be presenting findings from the feasibility work at two national conferences in July 2019 - the British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology 2019 conference and a research methods conference. 

 

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