• cancer;
  • empirical research report;
  • ethnography;
  • nursing;
  • survivors;
  • time


Aim.  This paper reports a study to explore how cancer survivors talk about, experience and manage time in everyday life.

Background.  There is an increasing interest in specific physical and psychosocial aspects of life after cancer diagnosis and treatment, but hardly any research follows cancer survivors over time to explore how perceptions and experiences change.

Methods.  An exploratory study was carried out in 2002–2004 with a purposive sample of adults who had experienced various forms of cancer. Data collection included 9 weeks of participant observation at a Cancer Rehabilitation Centre and ethnographic interviews with 23 informants. Ten men and 13 women were interviewed twice: 2 weeks after their stay and 18 months later.

Findings.  Data were analysed from a culture-analytical perspective. Three main themes regarding the survivors’ handling and perception of time were found: (1) cancer disrupts time and life; (2) awareness of time increases, time is verbalized and reflected; and (3) the informants appropriate time. A diagnosis of cancer, even for a survivor, means a confrontation with death. It means a disruption of continuous clock and calendar time. Survivors appropriate time, and prioritize how and with whom they want to spend their time.

Conclusion.  With an increasing number of people being cured following a cancer diagnosis, nurses and oncology nurse specialists who work with cancer survivors must be aware of the fact that time is a central theme in understanding cancer survivors’ lives, and they must know how to guide these survivors in their new lives and take care of their well-being.