'I am part of the community but...' The changing context of rural living for persons with advanced cancer and their families
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INTRODUCTION: Older rural persons who are receiving palliative care experience multiple co-existing transitions that can be distressing. These transitions do not occur in a vacuum, but occur in a context that reflects the uniqueness of rural living and the complexities of end of life in rural settings. The context or situation (geographical, physical, and social) in which an experience occurs influences the way people view and interpret the world around them; this contextual perspective contributes greatly to perceptions held by rural residents. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore the context in which older rural patients receiving palliative care and their families experience transitions. Following a study of the transition experiences of older rural palliative patients, an in-depth interpretive description analysis was conducted specific to the context in which the participants' transitions occurred. METHODS: Twenty-seven open-ended, individual, audio-taped, qualitative interviews were conducted and 4 focus group discussions were held to gather data. Individual audio-taped interviews were conducted with six older rural persons with advanced cancer and 10 bereaved (post-death) family caregivers. Four focus groups were conducted with 12 palliative care healthcare professionals. Participants were recruited from 3 rural health regions in a western Canadian province classified as one of the most 'rural' Canadian provinces. All interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed using Thorne's interpretive description qualitative approach. RESULTS: From the data analysis four themes emerged: (1) community connectedness/isolation; (2) lack of accessibility to care; (3) communication and information issues; and (4) independence/dependence. Participants described feelings of being connected to the community at the same time as they also reported feeling isolated. They described their value of independence at the same time as finding themselves becoming increasingly dependent on others. At times this value of independence interfered with their seeking and accessing needed health or supportive care. They perceived their lack of access to health care resulted in little or no choice in where they die. CONCLUSIONS: These findings reveal that the rural context has a major impact on the types of community support and healthcare services needed by older persons with advanced disease and their families. With advanced disease, the participants' sense of solitude became one of isolation, and with increasing dependence on others, they needed more connection and support from others. The findings reflected a more complex view of rural aging and dying than has been cited in the literature to date. This study suggests there is a need to renegotiate community supports and the independence available to persons with advanced disease as they undergo multiple transitions near the end of life.
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