Background: Until now, most existentially focused cancer research has been conducted within adult populations. Only a handful of qualitative investigations have captured the experiences of children with cancer relative to themes such as existential fear and finitude, meaning/meaninglessness, uncertainty, authenticity, and inauthenticity.
Objective: This article aimed to provide a deeper understanding of the existential challenges faced by children living with cancer.
Methods: An interpretive, descriptive qualitative research approach was used. Thirteen children (8–17 years) undergoing treatment for cancer participated. Children participated in individual open-ended interviews and also had the opportunity to journal their experiences in a computerized drawing tool.
Results: The 4 main themes that emerged in relation to the existential challenges experienced by children with cancer included (1) existential worry, (2) existential vacuum, (3) existential longing, and (4) existential growth. The drawing tool within the computer diary was found to be particularly beneficial in assisting children to express the existential challenges that they had previously been unable to articulate in words.
Conclusion: Children moved between existential anxiety and existential growth within the cancer world. The expressive means of drawing pictures gave children a therapeutic space to explore and work at understanding the existential challenges experienced.
Implications for Practice: This research provides evidence that the active engagement of children’s imaginations through the use of a computer-drawing tool may have significant therapeutic value for children with cancer. As well, the findings support the importance of nurses “being there” for young patients with cancer in their time of despair.
Author Affiliations: Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Dr Woodgate and Mr Tailor); and Mr Faculty of Health and Community Studies, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada (Dr West).
Dr Woodgate was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Applied Chair in Reproductive, Child and Youth Health Services and Policy Research and was supported by a by a CIHR operating grant for this study.
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence: Roberta L. Woodgate, PhD, Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3T 2N2 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for publication May 26, 2013.