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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The family cancer experience : a qualitative study of families in which an adult member is living with cancer Thorne, Sally Elizabeth


This study was designed to elicit the perceptions of families who are experiencing cancer in one of their adult members for the purpose of describing and explaining psychosocial aspects of the cancer experience from a family perspective. The method used in conducting this study was the phenomenological paradigm of qualitative research. Data were collected through a series of interviews with eight families comprised of a total of seventeen members. The eight cancer-patient members were all between the ages of 59 and 66. The initial interviews were loosely guided by the research questions, and addressed the families' perceptions of the impact of cancer upon psychosocial aspects of their everyday lives. The data were comprised of the accounts given by families in these interviews. Constant comparative analysis was employed throughout the data collection phase to permit analytic material to guide and focus the process of constructing accounts. The families described their everyday lives with cancer as being normal lives notwithstanding a number of changes directly associated with having cancer. They perceived themselves to have minimized the impact of change through a number of consciously-chosen strategic approaches. They explained the normalcy of their experiences in terms of the successfulness of these strategic approaches. Further, they explained the success of their strategies in terms of the relationship of these strategies to their family self-concept and philosophy. The data revealed the capacity of older families to modify and make sense of their cancer experiences. By applying attitudes which conformed to their histories and philosophies, they minimized changes in everyday life, created support networks, facilitated the quality of their medical care, and generated hope. In terms of nursing practice, these findings reinforce the value of incorporating family beliefs and attitudes into all phases of the nursing process. They therefore strengthen the argument for evaluating effective and ineffective coping on an individual basis rather than according to commonly-held assumptions. Implications for future nursing research include further exploration of selected themes that emerged from the study, and expansion of the body of knowledge about family functioning to include the family's perspective.

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