“My Future is Now”: A Qualitative Study of Persons Living With Advanced Cancer

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Abstract

Objectives:

Advance care planning (ACP) enables individuals to deliberate about future preferences for care based upon their values and beliefs about what is important in life. For many patients with advanced cancer, however, these critical conversations do not occur. A growing body of literature has examined the end-of-life wishes of seriously ill patients. Few studies have explored what is important to persons as they live with advanced cancer. The aim of the current study was to address this gap and to understand how clinicians can support patients’ efforts to live in the present and plan for the future.

Methods:

Transcriptions of interviews conducted with 36 patients diagnosed with advanced cancer were analyzed using immersion–crystallization, a qualitative research technique.

Results:

Four overarching themes were identified: (I) living in the face of death, (II) who I am, (III) my experience of cancer, and (IV) impact of my illness on others. Twelve subthemes are also reported.

Significance of Results:

These findings have significant implications for clinicians as they partner with patients to plan for the future. Our data suggest that clinicians consider the following 4 prompts: (1) “What is important to you now, knowing that you will die sooner than you want or expected?” (2) “Tell me about yourself.” (3) “Tell me in your own words about your experience with cancer care and treatment.” (4) “What impact has your illness had on others?” In honoring patients’ lived experiences, we may establish the mutual understanding necessary to providing high-quality care that supports patients’ priorities for life.

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