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Constructing Existential Uncertainty in the Cancer Context: A Deductive Thematic Analysis

Dwan, C. & Willig, C. ORCID: 0000-0001-9804-9141 (2023). Constructing Existential Uncertainty in the Cancer Context: A Deductive Thematic Analysis. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, pp. 1-21. doi: 10.1080/10720537.2023.2233035


Notwithstanding ever-increasing reservoirs of scientific knowledge, uncertainty is a fundamental part of human existence that will never be eliminated. This paper focuses on the concept of existential uncertainty by exploring how people living with cancer construct their sense of the unknown. We interviewed six people who had received a cancer diagnosis in the last five years on the subject of their uncertainty, inviting them to talk about objects that were related to this uncertainty and to answer questions about their experience of uncertainty. A deductive thematic analysis of the interviews generated commonalities in the way they expressed the existential aspect of their uncertainty, namely: a struggle to put it into words; a resort to metaphorical modes of expression; and a sense that the process of doing so was somehow “weird.” We suggest that it is difficult for people to express their existential uncertainty directly and in the conventional terms of a medico-scientific discourse, and that they resort to alternative discourses that are more amenable to metaphor to do so. It is important for clinicians offering psychological support to be aware that clients may express uncertainty in this way so they can deepen rather than thwart their meaning-making process.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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