How Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn Define Life and Death in Cancer: Patient Perceptions in Oncology

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Abstract

Reason for the study:

Clinicians use conserving care in their therapeutic decisions. Discussing death as part of the treatment influences patient's perception and their acceptance of death. We compare 2 literary patients’ perceptions of cancer and death (Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich), with a contemporary patient perception.

Results:

The patient interview revealed naive cancer perceptions: every treatment option should be tried. In Solzhenitsyn's novel, the main character finds a goal in love; Tolstoy conceptualizes death as a solution for patients’ moral issues.

Conclusions:

Tolstoy's novel shows death as an honest prospect. Solzhenitsyn's novel shows the opposite: the prospect of love and life helps the protagonist patient psychologically through his disease. The patient interview revealed no discussion of death at all.

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