Types of Social Support in African Americans With Cancer

Jill B. Hamilton

Margarete Sandelowski

ONF 2004, 31(4), 792-800. DOI: 10.1188/04.ONF.792-800

Purpose/Objectives: To determine the types of social support that African Americans use to cope with the experience of cancer.

Research Approach: Qualitative study using a grounded theory approach.

Setting: Participants' homes in the southeastern United States.

Participants: A purposeful sample of 13 African American men (aged 61-79 years) treated for prostate cancer and 15 African American women (aged 42-87 years) treated for breast cancer. Participants were selected according to key variables known to influence social support: age, gender, marital status, education, geographic region, and proximity to family.

Methodologic Approach: Open-ended and semistructured interviews were conducted with each participant (N = 28). Participants were interviewed until informational redundancy was achieved. Constant comparison techniques were used to identify variations of social support within and across cases.

Main Research Variables: The experience of social support during diagnosis or treatment for cancer as well as post-treatment.

Findings: Participants used types of social support not currently emphasized in the literature. The emotional support of "presence" was reported most frequently. Instrumental support included not only current conceptualizations but also offers of prayers, assistance to continue religious practices, and assistance to maintain social roles. Informational support included what to expect and how to manage symptoms, interpret information, and validate information received.

Conclusions: Findings suggest the need to reconceptualize social support for African Americans with cancer and to refine instruments to include these different manifestations of social support.

Implications for Nursing: Researchers can use these findings in the design of culturally relevant questionnaires and interventions for this population. Clinicians can use knowledge of the types of social support valued among African American patients with cancer to develop more appropriate strategies to promote healthy outcomes for this population.

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