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J Health Commun. 2000 Apr-Jun;5(2):135-59.

Experiences of women with breast cancer: exchanging social support over the CHESS computer network.

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School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.


Using an existential-phenomenological approach, this paper describes how women with breast cancer experience the giving and receiving of social support in a computer-mediated context. Women viewed their experiences with the computer-mediated support group as an additional and unique source of support in facing their illness. Anonymity within the support group fostered equalized participation and allowed women to communicate in ways that would have been more difficult in a face-to-face context. The asynchronous communication was a frustration to some participants, but some indicated that the format allowed for more thoughtful interaction. Motivations for seeking social support appeared to be a dynamic process, with a consistent progression from a position of receiving support to that of giving support. The primary benefits women received from participation in the group were communicating with other people who shared similar problems and helping others, which allowed them to change their focus from a preoccupation with their own sickness to thinking of others. Consistent with past research is the finding that women in this study expressed that social support is a multidimensional phenomenon and that their computer-mediated support group provided abundant emotional support, encouragement, and informational support. Excerpts from the phenomenological interviews are used to review and highlight key theoretical concepts from the research literatures on computer-mediated communication, social support, and the psychosocial needs of women with breast cancer.

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