Aim: This article explores how cancer nurses experienced the threat of patients' mortality on malignant haematology units of one institution in Ontario, Canada.
Background: Although patients with cancer are living longer with bone marrow transplantations, still they face possibilities of dying due to complications from treatment and their disease.
Methods: Interpretive phenomenology guided the process. Nineteen front-line registered nurses were purposively recruited from two inpatient bone marrow transplant units. Focused observations and individual interviews were analysed. Data were collected from April to August 2007.
Results: The major findings emphasized nurses' internal conflict related to their simultaneous need to help patients fight their disease and to prepare them for the possibility of letting go. The authors used the terms 'letting go', not to reflect nurses' intents to abandon life but to release patients from perceived norms of the 'curative culture'. Nurses experienced 'bursting the bubble of hope' by circumstances not in their control, and were often not certain whether or not to respond and how to respond to the distress of patients and families about death and dying. When feeling reassured of meeting patients' and families' expectations, nurses enabled patients and families to let go when further treatment was futile, prevented technological intrusions, and helped patients have 'easier' deaths.
Conclusion: Results suggest enhancing nurses' capacity to negotiate more effectively the contradictory clinical tasks of fighting disease and preparing patients for the end of life. In this regard, nurses may minimize patients' distress by providing opportunities for them to share their fears and have them validated.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.