Sensing illness in everyday life: Care-seeking and perception of symptoms among chronic cancer patients.

The main purpose of the project is to investigate how people, who are in the aftermaths of cancer treatment, experience life.

The project consists mainly of a qualitative study that includes people who have been successfully treated for cancer in a small fishing village in Finnmark, where challenges with primary health care and the distance to specialists may affect this phase after treatment. The data is mainly based on repeated interviews and participant observation with 10 people over a period of 11 months.

We have a special focus on the experience of illness and health, including how participants interpret bodily sensations and symptoms, and how they relate to them. Which health paths are sought and who is involved in the process?

The background for the project is that people who survive cancer represent an increasing patient group in Norway. Many have undergone intensive cancer treatment, struggle with late effects and many are afraid of relapse or other types of cancer. Even after treatment, it is likely that many people in this specific group have the need for further healthcare.

The projects' results are specified in a PhD-thesis, which offers anthropological analyses on health care seeking in the context of the social and cultural, contributes to the theoretical field of medical anthropology of the senses, and represents a further anthropological writing on emotions. It can be seen as a contribution to the understanding of illness and the perception of sensations in a cultural context of rural Northern Norway, where challenges differ from other areas.

The thesis shows how the challenging local health care situation, and some of the local shared values in the village, are embodied by the participants, and play a role in their sense-to-symptom processes. These factors lead to inner dialogues with 'potential others', concerns about overreacting on bodily sensations, being a burden for others, and being seen as hysterical by the social environment and general practitioner. The thesis illustrates participants’ approach of using familiar landscapes to stay healthy, and offers an anthropological perspective that opens up for understanding how worrying about possible relapse is a socially embedded challenge, and such a challenge can be better addressed, and practical clinical interventions developed, when we understand how people perceive, understand and deal with such worries in everyday relationships.


  • Magdalena Skowronski, Mette Bech Risør and Nina Foss: ‘Approaching Health in Landscapes - An Ethnographic Study with Chronic Cancer Patients from a Coastal Village in Northern Norway’. Published in ‘Anthropology in Action’.
  • Magdalena Skowronski, Mette Bech Risør, Rikke Sand Andersen, Nina Foss: ‘The cancer may come back: Experiencing and managing worries of relapse in a North Norwegian village after treatment’. Accepted for publishing in ‘Anthropology & Medicine’.
  • Magdalena Skowronski, Mette Bech Risør, Nina Foss: ‘The significance of cultural norms and clinical logics for the perception of possible relapse in rural Northern Norway – sensing symptoms of cancer. Accepted for publishing in ‘Qualitative Research in Medicine & Healthcare’.

All articles are published.

Academic supervisor: Nina Foss, PhD fellow: Magdalena Skowronski

The project was developed as a collaboration between NAFKAM and the Research Centre in Community Medicine (AFE) at the Faculty of Health Sciences/UiT and the Research Centre For Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care (Cap) Århus University Denmark.


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