Sarcoma survivors’ perspectives on their body image and functional quality of life post-resection/limb salvage surgery

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Sarcomas often occur in patients’ extremities and treatment typically involves bone resection/limb salvage surgery. Such treatments leave survivors with physical disfigurements, functional disabilities, and/or emotional traumas. Our post-surgery psychological intervention investigated how these experiences impinge on sarcoma survivors’ lives. Twenty-three survivors aged 19-60 years (M = 36 years) participated in a tri-disciplinary (rehabilitative exercise, plastic surgery and psychological) intervention. Of these, 17 participated in psychodynamic counselling, 10 completed a mental-health questionnaire and seven kept a reflective journal. An exemplar case study research design was employed and data were subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis. The findings reveal that survivors typically experience a number of body image issues and mobility difficulties, which they are reluctant to share with their oncologist in case they are viewed as being ungrateful or vain. In instances where such issues remain unaddressed, then sarcoma survivors have a tendency to adopt avoidant coping strategies and social isolation practices. These practices negatively impact on their mental health and functional quality of life. Hence, it is suggested that a short three part (body image, mobility, and coping strategy) screen be devised and used at all sarcoma 2-year follow-up assessment consults to identify which survivors are in need of psychological assistance.

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