Abstract PhD – Sigrid Helene Kjørven Haug (2015)

Thesis

The illness experiences of older people with incurable cancer in specialized palliative healthcare contexts. A qualitative study in clinical psychology of religion of the interactions between daily living and existential meaning-making.

Abstract

Older people living with incurable cancer as a chronic disease represent an increasing proportion of the patients receiving palliative care in specialized healthcare contexts in Norway. However, little is known about how they experience living with the disease in general and the psychological functions of existential meaning-making experiences in particular. In this qualitative study 21 participants, 12 men and nine women aged 70-88, were interviewed with a semi-structured guide. They were recruited from two somatic hospitals in south-eastern Norway while receiving palliative care. The aim was both to describe how the participants experienced daily living, and to explore and understand the psychological functions of their existential meaning-making experiences. The interviews were analyzed with both inductive and deductive strategies, in a progressive manner. The main finding was that the majority of the participants reported a strong link to life in the present in terms of four subthemes: to acknowledge the need for close relationships, to maintain activities of a normal daily life, to provide space for existential meaning-making, and to name and handle decline and loss. Existential meaning-making and resilience represented the overarching and interrelated processes for understanding their adaptation process in daily living. Cultural- and existential meaning-making analysis contributed to a more nuanced understanding of the participants’ varied interpretations and modifications of living with incurable cancer. The results point to the need for including these types of analyses and its resulting information in the clinical process for understanding patients’ frameworks of interpretations. Healthcare professionals can make use of this information in treatment planning and for the identification of psychosocial, cultural, and existential meaning-making resources to support older people and to strengthen the person’s own life resources.