Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide with one in 29 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year in South Africa (CANSA, 2010). Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact important areas of a woman’s life: her relationship with herself as an individual and woman; her relationship with family members as a mother, wife, daughter and caregiver; her relationship with the environment as community member and career woman and her relationship with her religion and spiritual deity. In the reality of a woman with breast cancer, there are certain roles that arise from her relationship with herself and the world around her. This is related to with social functioning which is the fulfilment of an individual’s roles, that are created by the individual’s interactions with his/her own self, family, society and environment.
The diagnosis of breast cancer is marked by mixed emotions from the patient, including shock, denial and anxiety. Cancer treatment includes surgical intervention such as biopsy, lumpectomy and mastectomy; chemotherapy; radiation therapy and hormone therapy. The various cancer treatments have different side effects that the patient needs to cope with and adjust to. Breast cancer has an adverse effect on women and can influence social functioning in different ways during the phases of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
This study focuses on breast cancer’s influence on the social functioning of women. The goal of this study was: to explore the social functioning of women with breast cancer. The research question that guided this study is: how does breast cancer affect the social functioning of women?
A qualitative research approach was followed with a collective case study research design. The population for this study was women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are clients of CANSA Potchefstroom. In this study non-probability, purposive sampling was used to generate a sample.
Eight participants who were diagnosed with breast cancer were selected for this study. Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with participants. Interviews were voice recorded with the permission of the participants and were transcribed by a contracted professional transcriber. The data were analysed by the researcher and themes and sub-themes were identified. The research findings are presented by providing a profile of the research participants and presenting the thematic analysis of the themes and sub-themes. In support of the findings a literature review and verbatim quotes from the transcriptions are given. The themes include the following: Theme One – Understanding cancer; Theme Two – Social functioning of women with breast cancer within the context of their life world; Theme Three - Social functioning of women with breast cancer within the context of their family and Theme Four - Social functioning of women with breast cancer within the context of their community.
The conclusions of this study indicate that breast cancer affects the social functioning of women in different areas of their lives. These women experienced changes in their personalities, spiritual aspects, physical abilities and roles. The family and community are supportive towards patients with breast cancer and this assists the woman diagnosed with breast cancer to cope.
The recommendations offered by this study can be used by professionals working with women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, to understand the influence of breast cancer on the social functioning of women and to assist social workers in their intervention with these women.