Understanding the Meaning of the Lived Experience of Adolescents in Treatment for Cancer

Fochtman, Dianne
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The increased intensity and complexity of cancer treatment has an impact on the lives of the adolescents undergoing such treatments. Living with cancer is a distinct experience for them which include physical, psychological, spiritual and social dimensions. The cancer experience comprises more than the measurement of symptom occurrence, frequency, duration and severity, or the ratings of quality oflife. The meanings of the lived experience from the adolescent's perspective and self-report can give a more accurate, holistic picture of the nature and scope of the experience. Practitioners need to know and understand the meaning of the experience from the adolescent's perspective in order to design appropriate interventions to prevent or relieve distress in these patients. The purpose of this study was to describe the meanings of the lived experience ofhaving cancer for adolescents undergoing treatment. Phenomenology was the qualitative research methodology used. As outlined by Patricia Munhall, this methodology seeks to understand the meaning of lived experiences. Seven adolescents, 14 to 18 years of age, in treatment for cancer were interviewed. Six males and one female participated in this study. Six were receiving treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia and one for a solid tumor. All participants were of Pacific Island origin; two live in Hawaii and five were temporary residents. The audio taped interviews were transcribed and analyzed to understand the meaning of the cancer experience. The essence of the experience for the individual adolescent was described and a composite interpretation of the meaning derived. Recommendations to healthcare providers for improving communication with adolescents in treatment for cancer are provided, including discussing death and dying early in the illness trajectory. The interdisciplinary concept of care is stressed, as well as the importance of a thorough physical examination. The importance of social support and techniques to potentially strengthen and increase this support are outlined. Solutions to the problems of school reintegration are introduced.
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