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One thousand words of luck: Narratives and analysis of United States resident Chinese immigrants with metastatic cancer

Hung-Ru Lin, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Chinese people traditionally hesitate to talk about illness and death as these topics are considered bad luck. Studies indicate that Chinese cancer patients seldom have the opportunity to share their deep feelings, although many experience “fear of death.” Clarifying one's meaning in life can facilitate overcoming this fear. This qualitative study therefore explored how U.S. resident Chinese immigrants with metastatic cancer search for meaning at the end of their lives. Data were gathered by a topical life history method, using life-story, in-depth interviews. Results show that participants appreciated having opportunities to share their experiences. They described how the interviews gave them a deeper understanding of themselves; by recalling their life events they realized how meaningful their lives were. Narrative analysis of 12 participant interviews revealed six themes: suffering and impending death; compassion and love; joy and value; hope and faith; readjustment and transcendence; and empowerment and peaceful dying. Participants simultaneously faced physical, psychological, spiritual and moral suffering, including physical discomfort, shock and denial, fear, psychological conflict, loss, loneliness, hopelessness, powerlessness, worry, uncertainty, and guilt. Despite this suffering, participants experienced compassion and love from religious practices and the caring and support of family and others. They experienced joy and value by feeling satisfied with their quality of life, having good relationships with family and friends, practicing religion, appreciating the present moment, and keeping everyday life normal. Participants built hope and faith by continuing to live, believing in a possible cure, having religious beliefs and getting encouragement from family and others. They readjusted and transcended suffering by accepting the unexpected in life, looking for positive impacts of having cancer, and developing a positive attitude toward living with cancer. They felt empowered and prepared to die peacefully by maintaining good symptom control, remaining independent, and finding peace of mind. Significantly, 8 of the 12 participants took both western and eastern medicines for cancer control. Besides hoping for a cure, participants believed that eastern medicines could promote physical comfort and help them die peacefully. This study's results have both theoretical and practical value for a fuller understanding of Chinese immigrants with cancer. One implication for oncology nurses is involving family members and religious beliefs in the care of Chinese clients with metastatic cancer.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Lin, Hung-Ru, "One thousand words of luck: Narratives and analysis of United States resident Chinese immigrants with metastatic cancer" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096295.