‘Being positive’: perceptions of patients with cancer and their nurses


  • Jenny O'Baugh RN MN GradDipClinNsg,

  • Lesley M. Wilkes BSc PhD RN CM MHPEd GradDipEd(Nurs),

  • Suzanne Luke RN BN DipNsg,

  • Ajesh George MPH

Lesley Wilkes, Clinical Nursing Research Unit, PO Box 63, Penrith NSW 2750, Australia.
E-mail: l.wilkes@uws.edu.au


Background. A review of popular literature reveals a constant message about the healing power of ‘being positive’. While there are studies that have examined the link between psychosocial factors such as attitude and cancer survival, very little has been reported about the perceptions of patients and nurses on the meaning of ‘being positive’.

Aim. To explore the meaning of ‘being positive’ for patients undergoing cancer treatment and for nurses who care for them.

Methods. A qualitative, descriptive approach within the paradigm of constructivist inquiry was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a self-selected convenience sample of 11 patients and eight nurses. The interviews addressed the following key concepts: definitions of ‘being positive’ and being negative; how these attributes are manifest in cancer patients; and factors influencing patient attitudes.

Findings. Patients defined ‘being positive’ as maintaining some sort of normality without letting cancer have a detrimental effect on daily living. Nurses identified hope, acceptance, fighting spirit and looking on the bright side as definitions of ‘being positive’. Nurses and patients identified environment and support of family, friends and health professionals as factors that influence patient attitudes. Patients also identified other peoples’ attitudes as important.

Conclusions. ‘Being positive’ must be acknowledged as central to being able to cope with cancer and its treatment. The ability of nurses to care for patients with cancer and help them to remain positive will be improved if they develop a better understanding of the meaning of ‘being positive’ for patients, and how other peoples’ attitudes affect their state of mind.