The Experience of Young Women Living with Advanced Breast Cancer
Purpose/Specific Aims: Van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenological method was used to design this study aimed at better understanding the meaning of day-to-day living with advanced breast cancer in young women. Rationale/Significance of Study: There is a gap in knowledge about the particular needs and daily life experiences of this cohort. Very little data specifically addresses this population. The limited literature that exists suggests that, due to the particular stage of life, their needs differ from those at other life stages as well as those coping with earlier stages of breast cancer. These women have described themselves as being invisible and having to live with the knowledge that their future is uncertain. Thus, this qualitative study is an important initial step in expanding our understanding of what daily life is like for this population. Sample and Recruitment: Women aged 25–39 with Stage III or IV breast cancer were purposively recruited via private FacebookTM groups specifically for women with breast cancer. The final sample consisted of 12 participants from across the U.S. Incidentally, all were parents. Data Analysis: Data were collected through two or more semistructured interviews and written journals. Analysis followed van Manen’s method of immersion, reading, and rereading, and using manual coding and NVivo software to develop themes to capture the participants’ lifeworlds. Findings: The meaning of their experiences is captured by the overarching theme: Wearing the mask of wellness in the presence of life-threatening illness. Five major themes were identified: Wanting to be known as the person I am, I’m still Mom, Living is more than surviving, Getting through it, and Being connected to others. Conclusions: Findings highlight that these young women are managing multiple roles and responsibilities despite the ongoing challenges of treatment and symptom management. They feel that their needs and struggles are not well understood because to outsiders they do not look ill. This study provides a base for further research and eventually interventions.