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The Cancer Experiences Collaborative: The need for narrative research
  1. Janice Brown,
  2. Amanda Bingley and
  3. Sheila Payne
  1. Janice Brown is Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Southampton, Amanda Bingley is Research Associate, International Observatory on End of Life Care, Institute for Health Research, Lancaster University, and Sheila Payne is Help the Hospices Professor of Hospice Studies, Institute for Health Research, Lancaster University. Email: J.B.Brown@soton.ac.uk

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We all use stories in our everyday lives. They are a familiar way of communicating our experiences and significant events to colleagues, friends and families. Nurses readily encounter storytelling in clinical practice. It is often the communication device that patients use to communicate their symptoms, explain accidents or recount experiences. Indeed, storytelling is regarded as a crucial and integral part of human life, to the extent that humans are considered storytellers by nature (Lieblich et al, 1998). Stories can be told in a variety of forms, e.g. oral, written or photographic, and span the range of human experience. However, illness stories are regarded as one of the most powerful forms for the expression of suffering and its related experience (Hydén, 1997). This raises their significance in the context of end-of-life care.

There has been a long tradition of valuing patients’ stories in supportive and palliative care and recognising the potential of these stories to enhance end-of-life experiences (McDermott et al, 2006). Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, promoted the importance of listening to and valuing patient stories as a way of enhancing the practice of individualised care (Saunders, 1996). However, she also encouraged narrative research as a way to develop knowledge and understanding regarding increasing effectiveness when supporting people and their families at the end of life (Clark et al, 2005).

Narrative research in cancer and life-limiting illnesses

Narrative research can be described as a distinct form of qualitative …

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