In a recent study which explored the dream content and discovery (meaning) of the dreams of women with breast cancer, several very important findings were revealed (DeCicco, Smit, Scharfe & Kerr). There have actually been very few studies that have directly examined the dreams of cancer patients. More commonly, studies have looked at the use of dream interpretation as a therapy technique for this group. From our recent study, some of the findings are listed here.
There were important connections among dream content categories (e.g. colour, location of the illness, torso, being lost) and waking day demographics directly related to cancer (e.g. number of treatment modalities, lymph node involvement, radiation therapy). For example, those who had radiation had a negative relationship with dark colours in their dreams. Those who had lymph node involvement had more white colour in their dreams. Also, those who had attended a support group had less references to their disease in their dreams. It appears that waking day issues are connected to the dreams of women with breast cancer in many important ways.
So what did these women discover from their dreams using The Storytelling Method (TSM)? Some very relevant findings are that the farther they are away from diagnosis, there is more happiness in their discovery, more meaning out death and dying, and more meaning in their support. The farther they are away from their first treatment, the less discovery about medical conditions. Also, if they had chemotherapy as a treatment, discovery was related to apprehension. If they had surgery, then there was less discovery about the disease reference.
When comparing the dreams of women with breast cancer to those without breast cancer, they significantly differed in apprehension, confusion and sadness. They also differed in categories of death/dying and the torso. In terms of discovery, the two groups had completely different discovery categories from their dreams. The women with breast cancer discovered things related to their illness, treatment, their body, or their negative emotions. Women without breast cancer on the other hand, discovered such things as their family, future, friends, and romantic relationships.
These are just a sample of the results from the recent study but it appears that dream interpretation for woman with breast cancer can be very useful. They tend to suffer nightmares, negative dream imagery and worry, therefore, dream interpretation with TSM may help them make sense of their nighttime mentations.
In order to explore this further, a new study is underway with women in treatment groups using The Projective Method of Dream Interpretation (DeCicco, Pannier, Lyons, 2009). The research on dreams, breast cancer, dream content and discovery has begun but much work is needed to fully explore this area. Of course the work must also be extended to other forms of cancer and then other diseases, where patients may directly benefit from exploring their dreams.
For more information on the complete study please feel free to email me directly.