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Talking With Death at a Diner: Young Women's Online Narratives of Cancer

Jessica Keim-Malpass
Richard H. Steeves
ONF 2012, 39(4), 373-378 DOI: 10.1188/12.ONF.373-378

Purpose/Objectives: To gain a unique perspective of the experiences of young women with cancer (age 20-39 years at diagnosis) through analysis of their online illness blogs.

Design: A qualitative analysis of online narratives based on hermeneutic phenomenology.

Setting: Online illness blogs found through young adult cancer Web sites and social media sites such Twitter.

Sample: 16 women, aged 20-39 years, who self-identified as being diagnosed with cancer and who initiated and maintained an illness blog based on their cancer experience.

Methods: Ethnographic immersion in online culture, thematic analysis based on line-by-line coding, and construction of themes and meanings.

Main Research Variables: Transitions from diagnosis, through treatment, to long-term survivorship.

Findings: Themes were identified as the women processed their diagnosis: living in the middle, new normal, urgency, and transition into the abyss.

Conclusions: The narratives shared on illness blogs offer an online place for expression of emotion, information exchange, and online social support. Emotional catharsis in the young women's narrative elucidated the experiences of transition through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship that allow a better understanding of their emotional and psychosocial needs.

Implications for Nursing: Illness narratives are a naturalistic form of inquiry that allow nurses to understand the experience of the patient beyond the traditional clinic setting. This initial study provides a point for understanding the content of online narratives and has vast implications for nursing-based interventions.

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