The importance of a functioning everyday life for individuals with head- and neck cancer is an often overlooked public health challenge. At the same time, there are demands to integrate health promotion efforts in health care as a natural part during treatment of severe illnesses such as cancer.
– If the patient’s own ability to formulate strategies, for instance when it comes to the intake of food, is supported by personnel, the patient’s health may improve, says Margereth Björklund, who has carried out interviews with 35 head- and neck cancer patients.
Margereth Björklund’s thesis shows that, for some patients, encounters with the health- and medical care givers caused a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability. Both before and after treatment, they often experienced not being believed nor respected when describing their problems. The co-ordination between the different care functions was furthermore perceived as lacking during the entire course of the illness.
– This may be a sign of the lack of a patient process-oriented organisation of care and psychosocial rehabilitation, continues Margereth Björklund.
The results of her research show that if health personnel are available, engaged, respectful and confirming, patients are provided a chance for increased power and control of their everyday life. Moreover, continuous emotional support from next of kin, contact with nature and animals as well as other activities increase the possibility to master the illness.
– The sometimes life-threatening symptoms threaten their existence and identity, which in turn could create a sense of captivity. Nevertheless, most of the interviewees express strong optimism and beliefs in the future. These emotions can be positively affected if possibilities exist for building upon the persons own strengths, activities and health resources in encounters with health personnel, says Björklund, who has 25 years of experience from working as a nurse in an ear clinic in Helsingborg.
In addition, support from patient organisations and participating in courses on learning how to live with cancer are important to improve everyday well-being and can contribute to patient independence.

Björklund stresses the importance of creating a healthy and supportive care environment, including accessible quite, calm, and separate rooms with views over green areas. She also argues for more culture in the health care, like art, music and literature.

Margereth Björklund’s thesis provides a deeper understanding of the everyday life of these patients and their experiences of health, illness and possibilities instead of focusing solely on diagnoses, problems and deficiencies.

Thesis title: Living with Head- and Neck Cancer: A Health Promotion Perspective – A Qualitative Study

Author: University lecturer Margereth Björklund, Kristianstad University, Sweden
Tel: +46 042 22 87 68; +46 044 20 40 94; +46 070 276 33 18
Supervisor: Professor Anneli Sarvimäki, registered nurse and Director, the Age Institute, Helsinki, Finland
Tel: +35 89 61 22 16 28, +35 89 61 22 16 28, +35 84 05 30 26 02
Co-supervisor: Senior lecturer Agneta Berg, registered nurse and PhD Health Sciences, Kristianstad University, Sweden
Tel: +46 44 20 12 44 83; +46 70 86 96 697
Time and venue for the public defence of the thesis: Tuesday October 12, 2010, at 13.00, Assembly Hall, Nordic School of Public Health, Nya Varvet, Gothenburg.
Address: Nya Varvet 25, Gothenburg, Sweden
The thesis can be ordered for SEK 150 excluding postage from: