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Keywords:

  • transition;
  • chronic illness experience;
  • narrative approaches;
  • qualitative

Aims.  This paper reports the findings of research that aimed to elucidate the meaning of midlife women's experiences of living with chronic illness.

Background.  A lack of awareness by health professionals of the context in which women must live with chronic illness often results in women feeling overwhelmed, alienated and without voice within the delivery of health care. This inquiry privileged women's voices.

Design.  The construct of ‘transition’ in chronic illness experience evolved from this collaborative and participatory research with midlife women living with adult onset chronic illness. Over a 1-year timeframe, 81 women were asked to tell their stories of living with a chronic illness. These correspondence data were thematically analysed to provide storied accounts. Guided by feminist principles, women were empowered through research processes and have actively participated in the development of the transition construct.

Findings.  The research revealed that when women are first confronted with a chronic illness they appear to move through a complex trajectory that involves an ‘extraordinary’ phase of turmoil and distress; however, they may then make the transition toward an ‘ordinary’ phase that involves incorporating chronic illness into their lives. Transitions in chronic illness experience involve movement from extraordinariness to ordinariness and sometimes back again and were found to be processes that are nonlinear, sometimes cyclical and potentially recurring throughout a woman's life. Four major constructs emerged from women's narratives: How quickly life changes; extraordinariness: confronting life with illness; The illness experience as transforming and ordinariness: reconstructing life with illness.

Conclusion.  Nurses are in a position where they may make a difference to women who live with chronic illness. Understanding illness transitions offers a framework that will enable nurses to move beyond the bio-medically orientated concepts of nursing practice, towards a holistic approach to the provision of nursing care.