Anita Pfisterer, Class of 2002
Thesis Title: "The Efficacy of Meditation Practice on Coping Responses of Cancer Patients in Treatment."
Advisor: Chun-fang Yu
Working on my Religion honors research project, "The Efficacy of Meditation Practice on Coping Responses of Cancer Patients in Treatment," has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life, for which I will always be grateful to the Rutgers Department of Religion.
The Anna I. Morgan Scholarship funded the project's cost. I began to set the project up in the beginning of the spring semester of my junior year. This included approaching the staff at Riverview Medical Center's Booker Cancer Center, where I have volunteered for the past six years. Because this was conducted at a medical site, supervision was required on all aspects of the project. Besides the excellent mentorship of RU faculty, I also approached staff members at RMC including the oncology social worker, the nurse liaison, a psychologist, and a neurologist. RU has a wonderful name in the world for research, and you will find that professionals are more than pleased to help a student who is eager to learn.
I had attended a professional training class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) last summer in preparation for this project. In September, the Internal Review Board at RMC arrpoved the project following presentation of the objectives with forms to acquire informed consent for all participants. It was my goal to test meditation as the treatment in a group of cancer patients who were receiving chemotherapy or radiation against a control group who received no meditation. Buddhist Vipassana (insight) meditation has been incorporated into the MBSR program successfully at University of Massachusetts Medical Center for over twenty years. My course was modified from this program to suit the needs of the patients. Blending meditation with stress reduction techniques is a great skill to offer patients suffering with chronic or terminal illness. All MBSR participants in my study did report feeling more relaxed with increased "peacefulness" or "calmness" following the sessions.
The lessons were invaluable including the how's of designing a research project from the bottom up and how to teach a class. Combined with exercising discipline to carry it through in the face of numerous unforeseeable challenges, I gained a sense of accomplishment. The project taught me the necessity of remaining flexible when dealing with real people, logistics, and data collection. I gained experience and confidence that will support my future endeavors in grad school to become a social worker dealing with chronic and terminally ill patients.
Each step of the way, Dr. Yu was there to give me support, advise, and to share her unfailing strength and beauty of spirit. Dr. Jones generoulsy gave of his time and clinical expertise to augment the paper. We have a very caring and supportinve faculty here in the department, possessing superior academic knowledge and standards, which cultivates a learning environment conducive to independent thinking and growth. I strongly urge all religion majors to work toward the goal of spending a year, working closely with a faculty member, to learn in depth, a topic of your interest, and avail yourself of this excellent opportunity. It is perhaps the only time that will ever exist to examine a subject of your choice so comprehensively in a relatively short time span.