A Phenomenological Study of Survivors of Adult Cancer

Dissertation, University of California, San Francisco (1989)

It is estimated that 10% of the adult female population will develop breast cancer at some point in the life cycle . Five-year survival rates for breast cancer are among the highest of the various types of cancer , yet little is known about the long-term adjustment of survivors. ;The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of breast cancer survivors. A phenomenological interpretive approach was used to collect and analyze the stories of 25 San Francisco Bay Area women, 40-78 years of age, with 5-26 years survival time. Interviews were transcribed, then analyzed, and organized by paradigm cases, exemplars, and themes. ;Informants described "going through," a survival process that involved movement through several phases, sometimes simultaneously. The phases included: interpreting the diagnosis; confronting mortality; reprioritizing; coming to terms; moving on; and flashing back. Phases were interpreted within the context of informants' backgrounds, sources of meaning, and models of understanding illness. ;The background ways of being from which informants interpreted experience included: surviving the dynamics of alcoholism; relating spiritually to God; manifesting a pessimistic view of life; controlling events and emotions; and doing or performing. Close human relationships, work, and religion provided informants with common sources of meaning. Informants' models of understanding illness included: personal growth, sin, fate; stress and coping; and medical. ;Informants interpreted cancer as a protest about something in their lives that gave them the "permission to be" more authentic. They described the emergence of a more authentic Self that was then shaped over time through interactions with others. Many informants emerged from the cancer experience with a clearer sense of Self, gratitude for life, and strength and confidence in their ability to manage life crises
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