A life-threatening illness such as cancer can bring about much existential suffering and a disconnect to self in spite of surviving cancer. In my recent research project, I interviewed 14 long-term cancer survivors on being post cancer. Contrary to common assumptions about long-term survivorship, my interviewees reported grave existential difficulties in finding a firm footing in their sense of self, fostering a variety of stories of despair. This article examines long-term cancer survivors’ suffering from the vantage point of selfhood and provides a philosophical interpretation of the reintegration of the self by illuminating their stories of despair through the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s seminal work The Sickness Unto Death. The participating survivors described how the cancer experience had quaked old perceptions of self, instigating them to question the depth of their self-understanding before the cancer and who they really were. In relating to themselves, they realized the dynamic process of becoming who they are by continuing to balance opposing poles within the self. This act of relating to self revealed the limit of the autonomous self in the creation of selfhood. The article intends to illustrate how a philosophical reading of selfhood and suffering in survivorship can inform medicine and inspire models for follow-up cancer care for long-term survivors.
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DOI 10.1007/s11019-019-09908-4
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