Nurse Experiences as Cancer Survivors: Part I—Personal

Rosanna F. De Marco

Carol Picard

Joan Agretelis

ONF 2004, 31(3), 523-530. DOI: 10.1188/04.ONF.523-530

Purpose/Objectives: To uncover dimensions of nurses' personal experiences of cancer survivorship.

Design: Interpretive, phenomenologic.

Setting: Metropolitan area in the northeastern United States.

Sample: 25 RNs diagnosed with cancer. Average age was 50 years, and 20 participants were less than five years from initial diagnosis.

Methods: Interviews. Analysis using methodology of Newman (1994, 1999) and Van Manen (1990).

Main Research Variables: Nurses' personal experiences of cancer survivorship.

Findings: Themes of the nurses' personal experiences of survivorship included the shock of becoming a patient and multifaceted dimensions of the treatment experience, including time, coordinating their own care, the struggle to maintain normalcy, uncertainty, nonclinical self-care strategies, and encounters with caring and uncaring providers. Participants identified the need for supportive relationships both in personal and professional arenas throughout the survivorship process. The cancer experience became an opportunity for change in priorities.

Conclusions: Although nurse cancer survivors experience similar personal vulnerabilities to those of non-nurses, their vulnerabilities often are affected by their knowledge of the healthcare process and content of care with which they are most familiar. They also are affected by what they know is at stake. This particular insider vulnerability is not cited often in research literature and, therefore, is not recognized as a particular type of need that should be addressed in cancer survivorship.

Implications for Nursing: Nurse patients need providers to be sensitive to their information and support needs, which may vary because of their professional experiences and personal resources. Findings suggest that nurse patients may need supportive approaches that target their unique vulnerabilities.

Jump to a section


    Auchincloss, S.S. (1995). After treatment. Psychological issues in gynecologic cancer survivorship. Cancer, 76(10 Suppl.), 2117-2124.

    Breaden, K. (1997). Cancer and beyond: The question of survivorship. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 978-984.

    Buerhaus, P.I., Staiger, D.O., & Auerbach, D.I. (2000). Implications of an aging registered nurse workforce. JAMA, 283, 2948-2954.

    Carter, B.J. (1989). Cancer survivorship: A topic for nursing research. Oncology Nursing Forum, 16, 435-437.

    Carter, B.J. (1993). Long-term survivors of breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 6, 354-361.

    Dirksen, S.R. (1995). Search for meaning in long-term cancer survivors. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 21, 628-633.

    Dow, K.H. (1990). The enduring seasons in survival. Oncology Nursing Forum, 17, 511-516.

    Dow, K.H. (1991). The growing phenomenon of cancer survivorship. Journal of Professional Nursing, 7, 54-61.

    Dow, K.H., Ferrell, B.R., Haberman, M.R., & Eaton, L. (1999). The meaning of quality of life in cancer survivorship. Oncology Nursing Forum, 26, 519-528.

    Endo, E., Nitta, N., Inaayoshi, M., Saito, R., Takemura, K., Minegishi, H., et al. (2000). Pattern recognition as a caring partnership in families with cancer. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 32, 603-610.

    Farmer, B.J., & Smith, E.D. (2002). Breast cancer survivorship: Are African American women considered? A concept analysis. Oncology Nursing Forum, 29, 779-787.

    Ferrans, C.E. (1994). Quality of life through the eyes of survivors of breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 21, 1645-1651.

    Ferrell, B.R. (1996). The quality of lives: 1,525 voices of cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 23, 909-916.

    Ferrell, B.R., & Dow, K.H. (1996). Portraits of cancer survivorship: A glimpse through the lens of survivors' eyes. Cancer Practice, 4, 76-80.

    Ferszt, G., & Waldman, R. (1997). Psychosocial responses to disease and treatment. In C. Varricchio, M. Pierce, C. Walker, & T. Ades (Eds.A cancer source book for nurses (7th ed., pp. 245-252). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

    Frank, A. (1991). At the will of the body: Reflections on illness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Fredette, S.L. (1995). Breast cancer survivors: Concerns and coping. Cancer Nursing, 18, 35-46.

    Gambosi, J.R., & Ulreich, S. (1990). Recovering from cancer: A nursing intervention program recognizing survivorship. Oncology Nursing Forum, 17, 215-219.

    Halldorsdottir, S. (1996). Caring and uncaring encounters in nursing and healthcare—Developing a theory, Linkoping, Sweden: University of Linkoping.

    Halldorsdottir, S., & Hamrin, E. (1996). Experiencing existential changes: The lived experience of having cancer. Cancer Nursing, 19, 29-36.

    Hamilton, D. (1999). Points-of-no-return. Reflections, 25(4), 8-9.

    Harrell, H.C. (1972). To lose a breast. American Journal of Nursing, 72, 676-677.

    Is cancer different when you are a nurse? (1982). AORN Journal, 35, 1296-1302.

    Jonsdottir, H. (1998). Life patterns of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Isolation and being closed in. Nursing Science Quarterly, 11, 160-166.

    Kayser, K., Sormanti, M., & Strainchamps, E. (1999). Women coping with cancer: The influence of relationship factors on psychosocial adjustment. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 725-739.

    Krause, K. (1991). Contracting cancer and coping with it. Patients' experiences. Cancer Nursing, 14, 240-245.

    Lamendola, F.P., & Newman, M.A. (1994). The paradox of HIV/AIDS as expanding consciousness. Advances in Nursing Science, 16(3), 13-21.

    Lee, C.O. (1997). Quality of life and breast cancer survivors. Psychosocial and treatment issues. Cancer Practice, 5, 309-316.

    Leigh, S. (1994). Cancer survivorship: A consumer movement. Seminars in Oncology, 21, 783-786.

    Leigh, S. (1999). Survivorship: What does it mean to nurses? Innovations in Breast Cancer Care, 4(2), 37-38.

    Leigh, S., Boyle, D.M., Loescher, L., & Hoffman, B. (1993). Psycho-social issues of long-term survival from adult cancer. In S. Groenwald, M. Frogge, M. Goodman, & C. Yarbro (Eds.Cancer nursing: Principles and practice (3rd ed., pp. 485-495). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

    Leigh, S., Williams, J., & Stovall, E. (1998). Survivorship: From the moment of diagnosis. Cancer, 83, 1710-1713.

    Loescher, L.J., Clark, L., Atwood, J.R., Leigh, S., & Lamb, G. (1990). The impact of the cancer experience on long-term survivors. Oncology Nursing Forum, 17, 223-229.

    Moch, S.D. (1989). Health within illness: Conceptual evolution and practice possibilities. Advances in Nursing Science, 11(4), 23-31.

    Morse, J. (2000). Determining sample size. Qualitative Health Research, 10(1), 3-5.

    Nally, A.T. (1999, June). Nurse survivors face each new day with humor and hope. ONS News, 14(6), 1-5.

    National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. (2002). National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship homepage. Retrieved February 27, 2004, from

    Newman, M. (1994). Health as expanding consciousness. New York: National League for Nursing.

    Newman, M.A. (1999). The rhythm of relating in a paradigm of wholeness. Image—The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 31, 227-230.

    Newman, M.A., & Moch, S.D. (1991). Life patterns of persons with coronary heart disease. Nursing Science Quarterly, 4, 161-167.

    Ott, C. (1997). Culturally competent nursing care related to breast cancer. Nebraska Nurse, 30(3), 31.

    Pelusi, J. (1997). The lived experience of surviving breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 24, 1343-1353.

    Picard, C., Agretelis, J., & DeMarco, R. (2004). Using reflective art and text to convey appreciation of pattern with nurse cancer survivors. Unpublished manuscript.

    Scannell, E.A. (1985). "I've seen cancer from both sides now": A clinical nurse specialist shares her own cancer experience. Cancer Nursing, 8, 238-245.

    Simon, M.A. (1978). No one should face cancer alone—Not even a nurse. RN, 41(3), 79, 84, 86.

    Utley, R. (1999). The evolving meaning of cancer for long-term survivors of breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 26, 1519-1523.

    Vachon, M.L. (2001). The meaning of illness to a long-term survivor. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, 17, 279-283.

    Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

    Watson, J. (1990). Postmodern nursing and beyond. London: Churchill Livingstone.