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“Cautiously Optimistic That Today Will Be Another Day With My Disease Under Control”: Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences of Ovarian Cancer

Burles, Meridith PhD; Holtslander, Lorraine PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e318277b57e

Background: Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer face a multitude of physical, psychological, and social issues. However, existing research has typically focused on those newly diagnosed with an initial occurrence or recurrence or women with advanced disease. As such, few studies have examined women’s experiences across the illness trajectory and the impact of ovarian cancer on their everyday lives.

Objective: This research explores women’s lived experiences of ovarian cancer and how they negotiate and make sense of illness-related issues.

Methods: Sixteen women participated in face-to-face interviews and e-mail follow-ups that were informed by hermeneutic and social phenomenological approaches.

Results: Five broad themes emerged from data analysis related to changes in health status and the body, disruptions to everyday activities and relationships, uncertainty, and coping and finding meaning in illness. These themes reflect the structures of participants’ experiences and constitute the essence of living with ovarian cancer, “cautious optimism.”

Conclusions: This research contributes to our understanding of women’s lived experiences of ovarian cancer across the illness trajectory; specifically, the findings indicate that embodiment and relationships were a central focus for participants as they sought to cope with myriad issues resulting from ovarian cancer.

Implications for Practice: Insight into women’s ovarian cancer experiences can help nurses in their provision of care to this population. Furthermore, the findings can inform support interventions for affected women across the illness trajectory, as participants’ experiences show that support needs often persist following treatment as women negotiate survivorship or recurrence.

Author Affiliations: College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

The research was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship awarded to the first author and a new investigator grant awarded to the second author, both from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Meridith Burles, PhD, College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan, 107 Wiggins Rd, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 5E5 (

Accepted for publication October 2, 2012.

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