In an effort to develop better support systems for older African American cancer patients, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a three-year grant to Jill B. Hamilton, RN, PhD, assistant professor at Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Dr. Hamilton will study support networks and coping strategies for older cancer patients within African American families and communities.
While previous studies have concluded that this segment of the African American cancer population lacks social support during and after their treatment, Dr. Hamilton's research indicates that those conclusions are problematic because the questions asked of the studies' participants were informed by the experiences of white middle class persons.
"The main reason these studies were lacking was primarily because they failed to recognize the difference in cultural perspectives and values of African American people. For example, if a 65-year-old African American breast cancer patient is asked whether she participates in a support group, she may answer no. However, this same patient can be receiving the critical support that she needs from the church, which historically has been a cornerstone in the African American community. Her idea of what support is does not fit into the standard idea of support as defined by those previous studies," says Dr. Hamilton.
In response to the need for a more culturally sensitive method of assessment, Dr. Hamilton created a new questionnaire, titled "Ways of Helping," which she developed from in-depth interviews that she has conducted with older African American cancer survivors over the past ten years. Dr. Hamilton's questionnaire addresses the coping strategies this specific population uses to manage their cancer experience. The funding from NIH will enable Dr. Hamilton to conduct a broader and more extensive study evaluating the "Ways of Helping" questionnaire and cancer support systems in the African American community.
Participants in the research project will include patients at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute and the Georgia Cancer Center of Excellence at Grady. The primary goals of Dr. Hamilton's study include testing the reliability of the redesigned questionnaire and measuring its effectiveness in comparison with existing surveys.
"The long-term goal of this study is to develop a tool that can be used to obtain a more accurate assessment of older African American cancer patients' coping and support needs," says Dr. Hamilton. "We need to find out what does and does not work, and then once this is determined, we can use the information to promote the most beneficial resources for this medically underserved population."
Co-investigators on Dr. Hamilton's study are Alton B. Pollard, III, PhD, associate professor and director of Black Church Studies in Candler School of Theology; Ora Strickland, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing: Otis Brawley, MD, associate director of the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Peter Johnstone, MD, director of Winship's Cancer Survivorship Program and Professor of Radiation Oncology.
"We're very excited about this grant and about working together on the study," says Dr. Hamilton, who is a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar. "In addition, we anticipate collaborating on future projects aimed at improving quality of life issues that older African American cancer survivors face."