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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring the lived experience of the human-companion animal relationship for people with cancer Maharaj, Nandini


More than half of Canadians share their homes with a pet (i.e. companion animal). Outside of the home, researchers and practitioners have increasingly embraced pets for their health-enhancing potential. Still our understanding of the relationship between cancer patients and their pets remains inadequate and incomplete. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the lived experience of the human-companion animal relationship for people with cancer. I sought to examine how people engage in meaning-making through their intimate relationships with their pets. I recruited participants from cancer centres and community-based organizations that provide psychosocial support to cancer patients and their families. Using the method of photo-elicitation, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine women and five men. The participants varied with respect to age, the stage and type of cancer, and the type of pet in their care (e.g. dog, cat, and fish). After transcribing the interviews verbatim, I analyzed the transcripts using an iterative process of reading, reflecting upon, and writing out my interpretations. One such method involved seeking the assistance of researchers and health care professionals to analyze data extracts from the 14 original interviews. From the eight phenomenological themes that I generated, I identified three higher-level themes, known as super-ordinate themes, which correspond to the following meaning-making strategies: disengagement/acceptance, distraction, and support seeking. These super-ordinate themes are presented using anecdotes and quotations from participants, as well as, my own interpretive commentaries. I discuss the findings in light of theoretical constructs and empirical research. Highlighted in the discussion are implications of the study for research and practice in supportive cancer care, along with potential avenues for future investigation.

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