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Perceptions of Distress in Women With Ovarian Cancer

Judith DellaRipa
Annemarie Conlon
Debra E. Lyon
Suzanne A. Ameringer
Debra Lynch Kelly
Victoria Menzies
ONF 2015, 42(3), 292-300 DOI: 10.1188/15.ONF.292-300

Purpose/Objectives: To explore women’s experience of distress by asking “What do women with ovarian cancer want their spouse or significant other, family, friends, and healthcare providers to know about their experience of distress during diagnosis and treatment?”

Research Approach: Modified Glaserian grounded theory.

Setting: An urban setting in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Participants: 12 women, aged 21–71 years, diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer.

Methodologic Approach: Constant comparative analysis of data obtained by audio recorded interviews.

Findings: Although individual experiences differed, abstraction and conceptualization of the data supported a theory of existential assault. Participants found that the diagnosis was shocking and came “out of the blue like lightning.” Their responses included seeking the best physician and treatment available, described as “no stone left unturned.” Information about the disease was welcomed and unwelcomed as they shared the experience of “knowing what I don’t want to know and not knowing what I want to know,” and then had the added experience of sharing that information with those in their social network. Interpersonal interactions were described as “watching you watching me—we are both afraid,” and “talking yet not talking about death,” resulting in relationship changes and the realization that “now I have to take care of me.”

Conclusions: Participants experienced diagnosis with and treatment for ovarian cancer as an existential assault that, with the potential for an early death, affected the individual and her relationships.

Interpretation: Previous studies have suggested that women diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer experience distress. This study reports women’s perceptions of their own distress.

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