Living with Symptoms: A Qualitative Study of Black Adults with Advanced Cancer Living in Poverty

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Cancer is associated with disease-related and treatment-related symptoms. Little is known about the symptom experience of black individuals with advanced cancer especially those with limited financial resources. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the symptom experience of black adults with advanced cancer living in poverty. This qualitative descriptive study focused on the perspectives of the participants experiencing at least two symptoms related to cancer. A purposive sample of 27 individuals receiving care at a public hospital in a southeastern city participated in the study. Semi-structured audiotaped interviews were conducted by two research interviewers. Content analysis was used to develop themes to describe the symptom experience. Two main themes emerged in terms of the participants' symptom experiences: (1) “living in pain,” which included the overwhelming experience of pain, both physical and emotional, and (2) “symptoms associated with functioning in everyday life.” Participants frequently used the context of activities in their daily lives to explain symptoms, including the effect of symptoms on the activities of eating, moving and doing, and communicating. People with advanced cancer work to negotiate a high frequency of multiple distressful symptoms of severe-to-moderate severity. Information gained from this study can help guide research in symptom science and provide direction for clinicians working with this minority group.

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