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A companionship between strangers – learning from fellow people with cancer in oncology wards


Correspondence to L.S. Andersen:




An identification and discussion of learning from experience among hospitalized people with cancer.


A good deal of literature focuses on the fact that the needs of patients for information about their disease and treatment should be met by healthcare professionals. Less attention is given to the kind of information that can be provided by personal experience. Patient–patient interaction as a learning situation has not been identified in current research.


The study methodology was qualitative and influenced by ethnography.


A qualitative approach with participant observation and qualitative interviews was used. From a total of 85 observed people with cancer, ten men and ten women were interviewed in 2010–2011. Data were analysed using qualitative data analysis inspired by Ian Dey and structured using NVivo9.


The hospitalized patients learnt about life with cancer from sharing information and personal experiences with fellow patients. Information from fellow patients was complementary to information given by healthcare professionals. Sharing personal experiences led patients to oscillate between four general response stages: the response of fighting, the response of keeping hope, the response of non-acceptance and the response of capitulation.


Learning from exchanges of experiences with fellow patients provided a better understanding about the disease and was valued because it was first-hand knowledge. Patients’ personal experience of disease is an underused resource in nursing.