BACKGROUND: Research has identified how people living with incurable esophageal cancer experience existential concerns.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine the phenomenon of existential anxiety when living with esophageal cancer in the context of receiving general palliative care in a hospital setting.
METHODS: This qualitative study is inspired by phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects of the philosophies of Ricoeur and Heidegger. Applying Heidegger's theory of existential anxiety and nostalgia, we interpreted the narratives of 18 patients receiving palliative care due to incurable esophageal cancer.
RESULTS: The patients experienced existential anxiety at the loss of a future and homeliness when receiving palliative care. Their existence was reduced to the present, with a break in temporal continuity. An anxious mood permeated their entire being-in-the-world in an unhomelike way. Despite this, patients initiated a restoration of home and meaning expressed as a soothing sense of nostalgia that served as an atmospheric, safe space allowing them to inhabit the borderline between past, present, and future.
CONCLUSIONS: The study suggests an empirical interpretation of the existential anxiety patients experience when receiving palliation for incurable esophageal cancer. It sheds light on how these patients would benefit from healthcare professionals inviting them to narrate significant aspects of their life stories in which the soothing presence of nostalgia can be supported.
IMPLICATION FOR PRACTICE: Providing care conditions for a life heading toward death, where the patient can live alongside anxiety, involves focusing on "being with" the patient and on incorporating a nostalgic dimension to facilitate soothing restoration of home for patients.