Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

An interpretative phenomenological analysis exploring the lived experience of individuals dying from terminal cancer in Ireland

Kara McTiernana1 c1 and Michael O'Connella1

a1 School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


Objective: The experience of living with dying has attracted limited research. We utilized interpretive phenomenological analysis to explore the lived experience of individuals with terminal cancer receiving palliative care in Ireland.

Method: Participants were purposely selected from public interviews that had been conducted between 2006 and 2011. The study included the accounts of eight participants (N = 8; six females and two males) with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Participant ages ranged from 36 to 68 years.

Results: Three master themes emerged from the analysis: the personal impact of diagnosis, the struggle in adjusting to change, and dying in context. The results revealed that participants were still living while simultaneously dying. Interestingly, participants did not ascribe new meaning to their lives. The terminal illness was understood within the framework of the life that had existed before diagnosis. They strove to maintain their normal routines and continued to undertake meaningful activities. Management of unfinished business and creation of a legacy were salient tasks. Social withdrawal was not present; rather, participants engaged in emotional labor to sustain valued roles. However, we found that within the public domain there is a paucity of education and discourse supporting individuals at the end of life. The hospice was noted as an important external resource. Each participant experienced a unique dying process that reflected their context.

Significance of Results: Healthcare professionals need to recognize the subjectivity of the dying process. Dying individuals require support and options to maintain their personhood.

(Received January 24 2014)

(Accepted February 19 2014)


  • Living/dying;
  • Terminal cancer;
  • Ireland;
  • Interpretive phenomenological analysis


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kara McTiernan, School of Psychology, Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail: