Participating in You: The Lived Experience of Being Touched in People Being Treated for Cancer

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Katherine E. Leonard, MS, RN, FNP, OCN, LMT
College of Nursing, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to articulate experiences related by study participants regarding the importance of touch by healthcare providers and family.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to articulate the importance of presence of the healthcare provider to participants in this study

ABSTRACT This phenomenological study (n=11) identified essential meanings of being touched in people who have been diagnosed with cancer and are currently undergoing chemotherapy. These people often feel both discomfort caused by the disease and the side effects of treatment. Touch is integral to communication and connects us to others, particularly with those who are ill and vulnerable. The experience of being touched in these people is important to understand in order to provide more effective touch-based interventions and raise the awareness of the impact of touch on patients who are vulnerable. Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and methods of Colaizzi and van Manen guided data collection and analysis. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and themes identified. Themes were compared among participants to identify both common and unique experiences. Components of the essential nature of these participants’ experiences with being touched were identified. The uniting theme was, “I want to be in relationship to other human beings as myself.” Four main themes emerged from the participants’ interviews: Building Rapport and Using Touch within the Healthcare Setting, Embracing Change: The Touch of Family and Friends, Dissonance, Resolution, and the Bodily Changes: Physical Changes and Their Impact on Being Touched, and Intentionally Therapeutic Use of Physical Touch.  Findings showed that being touched was more than a physical sense of touch and encompassed many meanings. This knowledge increases awareness for health care providers of the complex effect that touch has on the vulnerable and provides a basis for designing interventions that include touch.