Exploring breast cancer diagnosis and treatment experience amongst a sample of South African women who access primary healthcare

Bronwynne Coetzee, Rizwanna Roomaney, Paula Smith, Jolene Daniels

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Despite the known impact of a cancer diagnosis and related treatments on quality of life, and the complexity of patient journeys in low-resource settings, there has been little published research into the relevant issues faced by South African women living with breast cancer. In this study, we aimed to understand the experiences of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment among a sample of South African women who access primary health care. A convenience sample of 12 women between the ages of 48 and 66 years attending a primary health care facility took part in our study. Women undergoing breast cancer treatment were invited to take part in face-to-face interviews. The interviews were semi-structured and guided by an interview schedule. Interviews were analysed thematically using ATLAS.ti v 8 computer software. We identified three important themes that explained how women experience diagnosis and treatment, namely, (1) reactions to the diagnosis experience, (2) the importance of faith, and (3) the value in having a sense of agency. Women’s initial reaction to their cancer diagnosis was one of shock and disbelief. Despite these reactions, faith and agency played an important role in how women in this study made sense of their illness experience and how they coped. Our findings demonstrate that women’s experiences of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment were accompanied by some psychological distress for which they need support. Furthermore, supporting women to make positive choices about coping and valuing the role of religion when appropriate should form part of any therapeutic engagement, medical or otherwise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-206
JournalSouth African Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date3 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

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