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Cancer Patients’ Experiences of Their Personal Strengths Through Illness and Recovery

Rotegård, Ann Kristin MSN, RN; Fagermoen, May Solveig PhD, RN; Ruland, Cornelia M. PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e3182116497
Articles: Online Only

Background: Cancer patients’ strengths and capabilities have received little attention from healthcare providers whose primary focus is on patients’ problems. Thus, providers miss an important opportunity to build on cancer patients’ strengths. New care approaches are needed that nourish patients’ strengths and encourage them to take an active role in their care. Focusing on health assets is 1 such approach. However, so far, little is known about the strengths cancer patients use and experience during their illness and recovery.

Objective: The objective of the study was to explore and describe cancer patients’ experiences and perception of their strengths, needed or used by themselves or supported by their care providers.

Methods: In this qualitative, exploratory study, we collected data from 26 participants in 4 focus group interviews. We conducted a qualitative, thematic analysis with an inductive approach to analyze the interview transcripts.

Results: Cancer patients described a large repertoire of strengths they used or wished for during illness and recovery including good mood, mindfulness, willpower, positive relationships, hopes and beliefs, protection, and taking action and control. Patients also reported that healthcare providers rarely focused on patients’ strengths, something they fervently wished for.

Conclusion: Patients want their strengths to be more appreciated and encouraged by care providers, to become active partners in care and feeling in control.

Implications for Practice: Our findings support that patients’ own strengths are a crucial factor to get through their illness. Nurses should therefore have a greater focus on eliciting and nourishing patients’ personal strengths in their care.

Author Affiliations: Centre for Shared Decision Making and Nursing Research, Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo (Mrs Rotegård and Dr Ruland); and Department of Gastroenterology, Oslo University Hospital (Dr Fagermoen), Norway.

This work was supported by the Norwegian Research Council (grant 176823/S10).Authors’ contributions: Each author was involved in the study design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Ann Kristin Rotegård, MSN, RN, Centre for Shared Decision Making and Nursing Research, Oslo University Hospital, Pb 4950 Nydalen, 0424 Oslo, Norway (

Accepted for publication January 20, 2011.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.