Coping strategies in the presence of one's own impending death from cancer

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Jan;37(1):13-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2008.01.013. Epub 2008 Aug 3.


An incurable cancer is a threat to life itself. This study focused on how native-born Swedes, who define themselves as nonreligious, actually reflect and act when they try to create helpful strategies in the presence of their own impending deaths and how the strategies serve their purposes. Twenty patients were interviewed in depth. The patients were enrolled in an advanced hospital-based home care team. The interviews were taped, transcribed and analyzed with a qualitative, hermeneutic interpretative method. The informants' efforts to develop useful strategies to restrain death could be symbolized as a cognitive and emotional pendulum, swinging between the extremes of life and death. During the swings of the pendulum, the informants used every means available: their own resources, other people, animals, nature, a transcendent power, hope, imagination and magical thinking. They strove to find factors that fitted their conceptual system and supported their inner balance and structure, all to keep death at a discreet distance and preserve their links to life. These links were togetherness, involvement, hope and continuance, and they served as a shield against hurtful feelings connected to their impending death. The new knowledge about how strategies in the presence of one's own impending death can develop and be used is perhaps the most novel and clinically relevant contribution of this study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sweden
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*
  • Young Adult