The meaning of work and working life after cancer: an interview study

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Cancer survivors have diverse and complex patterns of return to work, but little attention has been given to individual experiences of returning to work.


To analyse the meaning of work and working life for cancer survivors over time.


Participant observation was carried out at a cancer rehabilitation centre. A total of 23 participants were interviewed twice.


Cancer survivors try to get back to work after treatment and try to re-establish their former structure of everyday-life that is seen as a normal and healthy existence. Work contributes to creating the individual as a social being, partaking in social relations with others. Work plays a role in establishing the individual's identity. It is difficult for many to resume work. When they are unable to work, they establish new activities in everyday-life that give meaning to a life. In order to understand the cultural meaning of work in capitalist society, we incorporate the theoretical perspective of Max Weber.


Those who after cancer treatment are unable to work lose a part of their identity; they lose the personal challenge and satisfaction related to work. They are no longer part of the companionship related to work. Having had cancer means a disruption of the structure of everyday-life that is taken for granted.

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