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Exceptional cancer patients. Experience, meaning and coping in people who "against all odds" survive serious cancer disease.

Else Egeland, Postboks 122 Fana, 5859 Bergen, Norway

Section of Nursing Sciences, University of Bergen

Abstract

Occasionally some people unexpectedly recover from serious cancer disease or live longer than medically expected. Biomedicine usually describes this phenomenon as spontaneous regression of the disease. People who experience the phenomenon are rarely asked whether they have actively tried to cope with the disease.

The purpose of this study was to gain further understanding of people who survive cancer "against all odds". The research question was whether the persons had actively tried to win back their life and health. The study asked what they did and what meaning they attributed to their disease and to their recovery, their actions and choices.

8 people who had lived experience with the research question were interviewed. The methodological approach was phenomenology and the qualitative research interview.

The participants had used different alternative medicine approaches to cope with their disease. Disease is often viewed in relation to life strains. Their own attitude and that they took personal responsibility is viewed as the most important reason for their positive health state. The hospital doctors showed little interest in their coping efforts. The doctors often communicated the medical prognosis as a death sentence that could crush all hope; there was nothing that the person could do to affect the disease. The participants expressed a need for a more constructive and meaningful conversation and to be met as whole persons. The most important support for their own coping strategies came from relatives and friends.

According to the findings of this study survival statistics should not guide how hope is communicated the individual patient. The focus must be ethical hope. Recent knowledge on body-mind connections must be taken more seriously. It is possible to approach disease through several levels of the whole system. The public health service should approach the person as a whole and communicate respect for the patients own coping strategies.

Key words: Exceptional cancer patients, cancer, coping, meaning, hope, alternative medicine, holism.

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Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, last updated 30.03.04

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