The Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Transition From Health to Illness

Marcia Boehmke

Suzanne S. Dickerson

ONF 2006, 33(6), 1121-1127. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.1121-1127

Purpose/Objectives: To gain a better understanding of the common meanings and shared experiences that women encounter after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Research Approach: Qualitative using Heideggerian hermeneutics.

Setting: Tertiary breast care center in suburban Buffalo, NY.

Participants: Purposive, convenience sampling recruited 30 women.

Methodologic Approach: Secondary analysis on tape-recorded interviews of women receiving their last cycle of chemotherapy. Narratives were interpreted using the seven-stage hermeneutic process.

Main Research Variables: Life experiences, shared meanings, and perceptions.

Findings: Four themes emerged: Changing Health Overnight, Erasing of a Former Self, Appraising of Illness, and Approaching the Future—Now What? The constitutive pattern was transitioning from health to illness.

Conclusions: Women experience a precipitous change in their lives after a diagnosis of breast cancer. How they mentally and emotionally approached diagnosis and treatment affected their symptom experience and outcomes.

Interpretation: This study provides oncology nurses with the awareness that beyond physical symptoms, women experience profound and precipitous emotional transformation following a diagnosis of breast cancer. It gives meaning to the devastation and symptom distress women experience that may be lessened if they are given adequate information and support. Women in the study who approached diagnosis and treatment more positively better incorporated the breast cancer process into their lives and better managed the side effects of treatment.

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