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The Content of Hope in Ambulatory Patients with Colon Cancer

From: Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics
Volume 3, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 153-164 | 10.1353/nib.2013.0031



Although hope is a pervasive concept in cancer treatment, we know little about how ambulatory patients with cancer define or experience hope. We explored hope through semistructured interviews with ten patients with advanced (some curable, some incurable) colon cancer at one Midwestern, university–based cancer center. We conducted a thematic analysis to identify key concepts related to patient perceptions of hope. Although we did ask specifically about hope, patients also often revealed their hopes in response to indirect questions or by telling stories about their cancer experience. We identified four major themes related to hope: 1) hope is essential, 2) a change in perspective, 3) the content of hope, and 4) communicating about hope. The third theme, the content of hope, included three subthemes: a) the desire for normalcy, b) future plans, and c) hope for a cure. We conclude that hope is an essential concept for patients undergoing treatment for cancer as it pertains to their psychological well–being and quality of life, and hope for a cure is not and should not be the only consideration. In a clinical context, the exploration of patients’ hopes and aspirations in light of their cancer diagnosis is important because it provides a frame for understanding their goals for treatment. Exploration of the content of patients’ hope can not only help to illuminate misunderstandings but also clarify how potential treatments may or may not contribute to achieving patients’ goals.