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A qualitative study of the experience of cancer and death from cancer among Inuit residents of Nunavut using Indigenous and Western methodologies

Tracey Galloway

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Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
A recent assessment of cancer in Nunavut has revealed that all-cause cancer incidence is significantly higher than in Canada as a whole. The absence of cancer diagnostic and treatment services in Nunavut necessitates long, frequent and costly periods of travel for cancer patients, compounded by the stress of isolation from family and community. It also means that many cancers are detected at advanced stages. Cancer mortality is higher in Nunavut than anywhere else in Canada, and that reality shapes the public perception of cancer. "In Nunavut, 'cancer' means 'death'," said one Iqaluit resident. Following recent efforts by the Government of Nunavut to determine the scope of cancer in the territory, we undertake an evaluation of the experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment from the perspective of patients, families and communities. The theoretical framework of the research employs the Two-eyed Seeing Model by blending Western methodologies with Indigenous models wherein knowledge is both experiential and relational. The research will use a combination of phenomenological-hermeneutics and the Inuit epistemology Piliriqatigiiniq to explore the development of contemporary narratives about cancer, and how those narratives further shape the experience of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. What is it like for Nunavummiut to experience cancer diagnosis and treatment? What supports exist, either formal or informal, for cancer patients and their families in Nunavut communities? What are the challenges or obstacles faced by cancer patients and their families? Given the high mortality of cancer in the north, this research will also explore the process of death. What does it mean to die by cancer in Nunavut? What issues are raised by the narrative of cancer death and how do they influence the cultural and community bonds that lie at the heart of Nunavut society?

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