Table in the corner: a qualitative study of life situation and perspectives of the everyday lives of oesophageal cancer patients in palliative care

BMC Palliat Care. 2019 Jul 22;18(1):60. doi: 10.1186/s12904-019-0445-2.


Background: Incurable oesophageal cancer patients are often affected by existential distress and deterioration of quality of life. Knowledge about the life situation of this patient group is important to provide relevant palliative care and support. The purpose of this study is to illuminate the ways in which incurable oesophageal cancer disrupts the patients' lives and how the patients experience and adapt to life with the disease.

Methods: Seventeen patients receiving palliative care for oesophageal cancer were interviewed 1-23 months after diagnosis. The epistemological approach was inspired by phenomenology and hermeneutics, and the method of data collection, analysis and interpretation consisted of individual qualitative interviews and meaning condensation, inspired by Kvale and Brinkmann.

Results: The study reveals how patients with incurable oesophageal cancer experience metaphorically to end up at a "table in the corner". The patients experience loss of dignity, identity and community. The study illuminated how illness and symptoms impact and control daily life and social relations, described under these subheadings: "sense of isolation"; "being in a zombie-like state"; "one day at a time"; and "at sea". Patients feel alone with the threat to their lives and everyday existence; they feel isolated due to the inhibiting symptoms of their illness, anxiety, worry and daily losses and challenges.

Conclusions: The patients' lives are turned upside down, and they experience loss of health, function and familiar, daily habits. The prominent issues for the patients are loneliness and lack of continuity. As far as their normal everyday lives, social networks and the health system are concerned, patients feel they have been banished to a "table in the corner". These patients have a particular need for healthcare professionals who are dedicated to identifying what can be done to support the patients in their everyday lives, preserve dignity and provide additional palliative care.

Keywords: Human dignity; Oesophageal cancer; Palliative care; Patient perspective; Qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Continuity of Patient Care / trends
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / complications
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Palliative Care / standards*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Perception*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology