Living with cancer : Living with dying: the individual’s experience

  • Catherine E. Exley

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis explores the experience of living with cancer and a terminal prognosis from the dying individual's perspective. It is based on qualitative sociological research. My study group comprised nineteen hospice patients, eighteen women and one man, aged 27 to 67, all of whom had been diagnosed with cancer. Thirty focused interviews were conducted; each respondent was interviewed at least once with a sub-group being interviewed a second or third time dependent upon symptoms, willingness to participate again and the need to explore issues further. My thesis is a sociological account of respondents' views and experiences. Its focus is the management and negotiation of dying and death at an individual level. A central tenet of my thesis is how self-identity is constructed and negotiated in different social encounters, in both the public and the private sphere. With reference to the public sphere I consider respondents' experiences of communicating with health professionals, and the difficulties they encountered. Within this discussion I look at how respondents constructed understandings of their illness within the context of their own biographies. I also discuss individuals' experiences of treatment, and the choices they made about this. In addition, I examine respondents' hopes and fears for their own deaths, and I suggest the notion of a 'good enough' death may be useful in interpreting their views. Respondents perceived they had a spoiled identity as a result of their cancer and dying status. As a result,, they spent a great deal of time and effort engaging in emotional work, in order to reassert their more valued roles. Much has been written about the emotional work of paid and unpaid carers. Here I suggest attention must also be given to the work of dying individuals themselves. However, I do not conceive of this emotional work as selfless, rather I suggest such work has benefits for individuals themselves. Emotional work enabled them to reaffirm or renegotiate more valued self-identities while alive, but in addition, I suggest that it also meant that respondents were able to contribute towards their own 'disembodied' after-death identities.
    Date of Award1998
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorKeith Sharp (Supervisor) & Carl May (Supervisor)

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