Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1911–1918 | Cite as

Construction of new personal meanings by cancer patients: a qualitative analysis in an Italian patient population

  • Loredana BuonaccorsoEmail author
  • Gianfranco Martucci
  • Guido Miccinesi
  • Alice Maruelli
  • Carla Ripamonti
Original Article



The goal of this study is to investigate the meaning that cancer patients in active therapy and/or rehabilitation give to their illness and resources they rely on to build new experiences of meaning and a future perspective.


The present study consisted in a summative content analysis of answers to open questions of the Purpose In Life (PIL) Questionnaire administered to 158 consecutive patients with non-advanced cancer (no metastases). The PIL is an attitude scale that indicates the degree of attainment of meaning and purpose in life and is divided into three sections: a first 20-item quantitative section, with statements rated on a 7-point verbal scale with two anchoring phrases (part A); a qualitative section with 13 open-end items and paragraph composition section addressing the future goals (part B) and past meaningful experience (part C). For the present study, we analyzed the answers to open questions, most interesting in a therapeutic contest related to the meanings associated with life, illness, and suffering to understand the experienced of the cancer patients.


The main recurring themes in PIL section B analyzed associated to the sense of life, disease, and death are as follows: meaning (positive/negative), personal dimension, religiousness; physical health, family, normal life; negative sense of death, the end, natural transition, religious belief, consolation, mystery, rejection; opportunity, negativity. Whereas main themes emerging from section C were associated to life goals of the interviewed patients: the desire of realization in the future perspective; the value of life; physical health and healing; guiding values; plus three more themes, distinguishable, but with a minor recurrence: legacy responsibility, religiousness, lack of purpose/resignation.


The use of summative content analysis evidenced the recurrence of a strong sense of positivity, present in the majority of the interviews. In particular, this positivity is shown by the use of words associated frequently to self-consciousness and self-evaluation, desire of happiness, and desire of contributing to the good of significant others and of taking care of your own life in order to give a positive contribution.


Awareness Meaning Sense Cancer Spiritual well-being 


Compliance with ethical standards

Approval was obtained from the ethics committees of all participating centers, with the number 68/2010 Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psycho-oncology Unit, Scientific DirectionAzienda Usl - IRCSS Reggio EmiliaReggio EmiliaItaly
  2. 2.Italian League for the Fight Against Cancer (LILT) Reggio EmiliaReggio EmiliaItaly
  3. 3.Istituto per lo studio e la prevenzione oncologica della ToscanaFlorenceItaly
  4. 4.Psychology UnitLILT and Center for Oncological Rehabilitation-CERION of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  5. 5.Oncology-Supportive Care Unit, Department Oncology-Hematology Fondazione IRCSSIstituto Nazionale dei TumoriMilanItaly

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