Table in the corner: a qualitative study of life situation and perspectives of the everyday lives of oesophageal cancer patients in palliative care

Louise Laursen, Mai Nanna Schønau, Heidi Maria Bergenholtz, Mette Siemsen, Merete Christensen, Malene Missel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Incurable oesophageal cancer patients are often affected by existential distress and deterioration of quality of life. Knowledge about the life situation of this patient group is important to provide relevant palliative care and support. The purpose of this study is to illuminate the ways in which incurable oesophageal cancer disrupts the patients’ lives and how the patients experience and adapt to life with the disease.

Seventeen patients receiving palliative care for oesophageal cancer were interviewed 1–23 months after diagnosis. The epistemological approach was inspired by phenomenology and hermeneutics, and the method of data collection, analysis and interpretation consisted of individual qualitative interviews and meaning condensation, inspired by Kvale and Brinkmann.

The study reveals how patients with incurable oesophageal cancer experience metaphorically to end up at a “table in the corner”. The patients experience loss of dignity, identity and community. The study illuminated how illness and symptoms impact and control daily life and social relations, described under these subheadings: “sense of isolation”; “being in a zombie-like state”; “one day at a time”; and “at sea”. Patients feel alone with the threat to their lives and everyday existence; they feel isolated due to the inhibiting symptoms of their illness, anxiety, worry and daily losses and challenges.

The patients’ lives are turned upside down, and they experience loss of health, function and familiar, daily habits. The prominent issues for the patients are loneliness and lack of continuity. As far as their normal everyday lives, social networks and the health system are concerned, patients feel they have been banished to a “table in the corner”. These patients have a particular need for healthcare professionals who are dedicated to identifying what can be done to support the patients in their everyday lives, preserve dignity and provide additional palliative care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number60
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Palliative care
  • Qualitative research
  • Patient perspective
  • Human dignity

Cite this