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Jessica Tartaro recognized as "Outstanding Graduate Student" by ASU Graduate College for research on spirituality and cancer


November 05, 2007

Study looks at how spirituality affects

cancer patients

By Kate Nolan

The Arizona Republic

Aug. 3, 2007

SCOTTSDALE - Most people treated for serious illnesses know that factors beyond medication can affect healing. Exercise, stress, nutrition and sleep have all been proven to influence recovery. A more controversial factor is spirituality, or faith. Researchers have only recently begun to study whether a faith/healing connection exists. A new study provides area cancer patients an opportunity to examine the impact of spirituality on their treatment.

The Spirituality and Cancer Study examines how beliefs affect health. Arizona State University psychology researcher Jessica Tartaro is seeking 150 men and women 18 or older who have completed treatment for any type of cancer within the past year. Tartaro has begun recruiting at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea in Scottsdale, but anyone who is qualified can participate. She's also interested in hearing from cancer survivors who don't rely on spirituality and may have other sources of strength.

"When I heard about the study, it fit with what we are doing," said Sherry Zumbrunnen, a registered nurse who is trained in holistic medicine. Zumbrunnen leads the Piper Cancer Center's Body Mind Spirit program, free to all cancer patients."A lot of our patients areafter a definite spiritual aspect," said Zumbrunnen.

Tartaro said research shows people of faith tend to have an edge in healing, and half of all patients feel illness strengthens their faith. A Ph.D. candidate, Tartaro studies health psychology, a field concerned with how biological, psychological, and social factors affect health and illness.

"I'm interested in what changes are permanent after the illness," said Tartaro, who is Jewish by birth, was raised a Roman Catholic but no longer practices. She training to be a yoga teacher.

"My job is to be as open as possible. Most the research has been done with the Judeo Christian population. I'd like to do more work with Muslims, Buddhists, pagans or any others," said Tartaro, a former Fulbright Scholar who first studied cancer survivors in London.

"There can be a canyon of difference between how I use the term 'spiritual' and how another individual does," she said. "But we may be handicapping ourselves to not understand what role the spiritual plays in healing."

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