Bethany Rhoten’s research focuses on issues that few people openly discuss—those surrounding body image and sexuality among cancer survivors.
“While conducting research for my dissertation, I saw how difficult it is when a patient with head and neck cancer looks in the mirror and the person they see is not the person they saw six months ago, or the idea of who they think they should be,” Rhoten, assistant professor of nursing, said. “These patients are grateful to be alive, but maybe they don’t want to go out in public or socialize with their friends. Maybe now they avoid being affectionate with their spouse or partner.”
Rhoten’s work focuses on patients with recurrent head and neck cancers who make the decision to pursue more treatment and how that decision affects their quality of life, body image and sexual satisfaction. These patients must determine if the risk and morbidity associated with the treatment outweigh the benefit. “[lquote]A patient with recurrent head and neck cancer will want to know if the treatment will prolong their life but also if they will be able to talk and eat and drink normally. Will they be able to enjoy time with family and friends?”[/lquote] she explained.
There is little research about the decision-making processes of this population, according to Rhoten, who received her M.S.N. and Ph.D. degrees at Vanderbilt. Her study will include surveys of patients at the time of their decision to pursue further treatment as well as at three- and six-month intervals postdecision.
“We want to learn if the patients are happy with their decision, what they are happy or unhappy about, and would they make that decision again,” Rhoten said. “It’s very patient-centered and individualized for each person, with a number of elements coming into play. Of those elements, we want to know which are most important to patients.” Rhoten’s ultimate goal is to help future patients with recurrent head and neck cancers make more informed decisions and for clinicians to be equipped with more scientific evidence on which to base potential outcomes.
Rhoten’s study is made possible by a Vanderbilt Patient-Centered Outcome Research Career Knowledge, Education and Training Program (V-POCKET) grant, specifically the portion designed to develop and recruit scholars.
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