Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 16, Issue 7, pp 779–785 | Cite as

The existential plight of cancer: meaning making as a concrete approach to the intangible search for meaning

  • Virginia LeeEmail author
Review Article



Despite modern advances that have led to improved prognoses and symptom management, a cancer diagnosis continues to evoke images of pain, suffering, and death.


The current literature suggests that the “existential plight of cancer” refers to what is now commonly known as the “search for meaning” following a cancer experience. Mounting evidence suggests that global meaning—defined as the general sense that one’s life has order and purpose—is a key determinant of overall quality of life. It provides the motivation for people with cancer to reengage in life amongst a bewildering array of physical, psychosocial, social, spiritual, and existential changes imposed by the disease. Health care providers are inherently involved in their patients’ search for global meaning. Yet, few empirical studies have operationalized how this search can be achieved.


The meaning-making intervention is presented as one concrete approach to address the normative distress associated with the search for meaning within the context of cancer.


Existential plight Cancer Meaning-making coping Psychological adjustment 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cancer Care MissionMcGill University Health CentreMontrealCanada
  2. 2.School of NursingMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Nursing ResearchMcGill University Health Centre – Montreal General HospitalMontrealCanada

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