Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Linda M. Whiteford, Ph.D.

Keywords

Medical anthropology, Hispanic health, Women's health, Immigration, Cancer survivorship

Abstract

Social support plays a crucial role in both the physical and mental adjustment to the diagnosis of breast cancer and its treatment. However, the mediating effects of social support are embedded within the larger, social and cultural contexts in which support given and received. Due to language, culture and economic issues, immigrants may find themselves without the social support and networks that had previously enabled them to cope with illness and disease. This research grounds our understanding of social support and breast cancer within that larger context that includes the social environment and the experience of health disparities. Ethnographic methods were used to explore the cultural domains of social support and to examine cultural and structural factors that influence this multifaceted construct. Participant observation, key informant interviews and 28 in-depth interviews with Latina immigrants diagnosed with breast cancer were conducted in Phase I.

The qualitative data gathered in Phase 1 informed the development of the structured questionnaire that was administered in Phase II to 60 Latina immigrants in West Central Florida who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer not only affects individuals, it impacts their social relationships, finances, work, and social roles. The analysis provides a rich and in-depth understanding of social support and contextualizes the breast cancer experience of Latina immigrants. Results suggest that cultural expectations about gender roles shape what kinds of support and assistance is provided by men and women. Spirituality and prayer were identified as non verbal sources of support. Beliefs about not burdening the family with personal concerns and beliefs that family needs should come before one's own were negatively associated with social support. English proficiency and length of time in the United States were not associated with social support.

Regardless of length of time in the US there appears to be strong ties with family in their native country. While family both in the US and in their native country were identified as sources of support, they were also identified as a source of stress. Recommendations for clinicians, practitioners and community-based organizations that provide supportive services and programs to Latinos are included.

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