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Arch Hellen Med, 37(2), March-April 2020, 209-218


Meaning-making and spirituality in cancer patients: A study based on qualitative methodology

N. Palamaridi, F. Anagnostopoulos, E. Fragkiadaki
Department of Psychology, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece

OBJECTIVE To identify and analyze patterns of meaning-making and spirituality in cancer patients.

METHOD The study sample consisted of 20 patients with an average age of 60 years, who had received radiotherapy for cancer of various sites at a public oncology hospital in Athens. The data collection was based on semi-structured interviews, and thematic analysis was the method used to analyze the qualitative research data.

RESULTS From the thematic analysis of the interview data, 4 major themes and 12 individual subthemes emerged. The first theme related to the attitudes of the patients towards the disease, and specifically, supportive relationships, an optimistic view, and denial of the disease. The second theme concerned the representation of the disease, as related to the patients' causal attributions. The subthemes that emerged were the disease as message from God, the disease as a random event, and personal responsibility for the occurrence of the disease. The third theme covered faith, which appeared to be a pillar in the efforts of the patients to cope with the upcoming difficulties, and in which the subthemes were faith in God, religious practices, and empowerment of faith during the disease. The fourth theme focused on the changes experienced by the patients throughout the course of the disease, with subthemes concerning the benefits of the traumatic experience, changes in priorities, and the perception of mortality.

CONCLUSIONS Faith emerged as one of the most important aspects of the cancer experience, from which patients could derive strength and optimism. The majority of participants referred to belief in God, but a few, more vaguely, mentioned non-religious faith. Based on these findings, it appears that facing a life-threatening disease often leads patients to consider their lives in a more favorable light. The patients reported positive changes in the way they live and reported that they attached importance to more significant issues as a result of the experience. Spirituality and meaning-making appear to be very important aspects of the patients' experience of cancer.

Key words: Cancer patients, Meaning making, Qualitative research, Spirituality, Thematic analysis.

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