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Working Toward Normalcy Post-Treatment: A Qualitative Study of Older Adult Breast and Prostate Cancer Survivors

Rachel Walker
Sarah L. Szanton
Jennifer Wenzel
ONF 2015, 42(6), E358-E367 DOI: 10.1188/15.ONF.E358-E367

Purpose/Objectives: To develop a better understanding of how older adult survivors of early-stage breast and prostate cancer managed the work of recovery.

Research Approach: Multiple case study design embedded in a larger randomized, controlled trial of a nurse-led patient navigation intervention.

Setting: Community-based research conducted via in-home visits and by phone with participants residing in non-metropolitan areas of a mid-Atlantic state.

Participants: Rural-dwelling adults aged 60 years or older with early-stage breast or prostate cancer and the people who support them (11 dyads).

Methodologic Approach: An approach to grounded theory analysis was used to evaluate the fit between existing theoretical knowledge and case findings and to generate new knowledge about the cancer recovery process.

Findings: Working toward normalcy was a core process of cancer recovery prompted by participants’ internal experiences and external interactions with their environments. This ongoing, iterative, and active process involved multiple concurrent strategies that were not necessarily medically oriented or cancer specific. Working toward normalcy resulted in movement along a continuum of self-appraisal anchored between participants experiencing life as completely disrupted by cancer to a life back to normal. A greater sense of normalcy was associated with higher engagement in valued activities and increased physical and psychological well-being.

Conclusions: In addition to the core process of working toward normalcy, multiple theories from nursing, sociology, psychology, and gerontology helped to explain case findings. This knowledge could serve as a foundation on which to design survivorship care that supports the goals of cancer survivors working toward normalcy post-treatment.

Interpretation: Post-treatment wellness goals can include a desire to reestablish or maintain a sense of normalcy. Nursing actions that promote survivors’ efforts to be perceived as capable, stay engaged in valued activities and roles, maintain a sense of control over their lives and bodies, and make plans for the future may help meet this goal. Existing theories about identity, dignity, inner strength, and the work of illness can inform nursing interventions.

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