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This paper explores lay explanations of developing a cancer disease and ‘recovering’ from the disease, both phenomena of importance in understanding how information on cancer prevention and recovery is made sense of by non-professionals. The data derive from interviews conducted with persons diagnosed with a malignant disease during 1987 at one hospital in urban Sweden. Forty-six patients were interviewed in 1988–1989, and 20 of those surviving were interviewed again in 1992. Explanations most often appear to be negotiated forth because they are able to fulfil a positive function for the patient in the sickness process. Intricate combinations of explanations are found which avoid individual blame, provide the possibility of positive influence and allow for individual successes. The micro-level explanations are discussed in relation to general discourse about prevention of sickness in our culture.