Salvaging Their Normal Lives: A Qualitative Study of Patients With Recently Diagnosed Advanced Colorectal Cancer

Arlene D. Houldin

Frances Marcus Lewis

ONF 2006, 33(4), 719-725. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.719-725

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the experiences of patients living with newly diagnosed stage III or IV colorectal cancer.

Research Approach: Qualitative; inductive coding methods were used to identify open codes that were analyzed, compared, and grouped into categories.

Setting: An urban ambulatory cancer center in the northeastern United States.

Participants: 14 patients newly diagnosed with stage III or stage IV colorectal cancer.

Methodologic Approach: Semistructured interviews were recorded on audiotape. Interviewers asked participants to describe their experiences with the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer. Content analysis with inductive coding was used to code the transcribed interview data. Categories were reviewed and organized into larger groupings, from which the core category was derived.

Main Research Variables: Experiences of living with a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, impact on daily living, quality of life, coping strategies used, level of preparedness, and impact on children.

Findings: The coded interview data yielded six domains: feeling life is disrupted, experiencing physicians, feeling unprepared for everything, rethinking parenting, wondering "why me?," and dealing with it. The core category that explained study participants' experiences with recently diagnosed colorectal cancer was "salvaging their normal lives."

Conclusions: The dominant experience of the study participants focused on four aspects of their illness experience: (a) framing it in ways that enabled them to recreate a semblance of normalcy or of their preillness state, (b) trying to tell children about the illness in stabilizing ways, (c) generating or maintaining a positive outlook no matter what, and (d) concretely managing the distress of the illness and its symptoms.

Interpretation: Targeted assessment is important in the six dimensions of the study domains. Clinicians who work with patients with cancer should offer support as patients search for meanings to explain this potentially devastating life event. Teaching active coping strategies as patients with advanced cancer struggle to come to terms with the demands of the disease while attempting to live their lives as fully and as normally as possible is important.

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