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Perceptions of the meaning of life among Korean patients with advanced cancer: A mixed-methods study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2022

Su-Jin Koh
Department of Hematology and Oncology, Ulsan University Hospital, Ulsan University College of Medicine, Ulsan, Korea
Kyung-Ah Kang
College of Nursing, Sahmyook University, Seoul, Korea
Hyeyeong Kim
Department of Hematology and Oncology, Ulsan University Hospital, Ulsan University College of Medicine, Ulsan, Korea
Jaekyung Cheon
Department of Medical Oncology, CHA Bundang Medical Center, CHA University, Seongnam, South Korea
Hyeon-Su Im
Department of Hematology and Oncology, Ulsan University Hospital, Ulsan University College of Medicine, Ulsan, Korea
Jae-Hon Lee
Department of Psychiatry, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, ON, Canada
Minsu Ock
Department of Hematology and Oncology, Ulsan University Hospital, Ulsan University College of Medicine, Ulsan, Korea
Juhee Cho
Cancer Education Center, Samsung Comprehensive Cancer Center, Seoul, Korea and Department of Clinical Research Design and Evaluation, SAIHST, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea
Eun-Hye Lee*
College of Nursing, Sahmyook University, Seoul, Korea
Author for correspondence: Eun-Hye Lee, College of Nursing, Sahmyook University, 815, Hwarang-ro, Nowon-gu, Seoul 01795, Korea. E-mail:



This study aimed to explore perceptions of the meaning of life among Korean patients living with advanced cancer.


The study employed a mixed-methods design, and 16 participants were included in the analysis. Qualitative data gathered from in-depth interviews were analyzed using Colaizzi's phenomenological method. Quantitative survey data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, the Mann–Whitney U test, the Kruskal–Wallis test, and Spearman's ρ correlation.


Participants experienced both the existence of meaning and the will to find meaning in terms of four categories: “interpersonal relationships based on attachment and cohesion” (three themes — family as the core meaning of one's life, supportive and dependent interconnectedness with significant others, and existential responsibility embedded in familism), “therapeutic relationships based on trust” (one theme — communication and trust between the patient and medical staff), “optimism” (two themes — positivity embodied through past experiences and a positive attitude toward the current situation), and “a sense of purpose with advanced cancer” (two themes — the will to survive and expectations for the near future). The meaning in life questionnaire (MLQ) and the purpose in life scale (PIL) showed a significant positive correlation tendency with the functional assessment of chronic illness therapy-spiritual well-being scale (FACIT-Sp). The patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) showed significant negative correlation tendency with both the MLQ-presence of meaning (MLQ-PM) and PIL-Initiative (PIL-I) questionnaires.

Significance of results

Finding meaning in life helps advanced cancer patients realize their will to live. It also acts as a coping mechanism that palliates negative experiences in the fight against the disease. In particular, among advanced cancer patients in the Korean culture, the dynamics of relationships with family and medical staff was a key axis that instilled optimism and will to live. These results suggest that considering the meaning of life in advanced cancer patients by reflecting Korean culture in the treatment process improves the quality of care.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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