Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Kathleen M. Ingram


For most of us, thoughts about our own mortality are largely unconscious, an invisible backdrop to our daily living. However, when forced to face a potentially life threatening event, these otherwise underlying thoughts about human transience rise to consciousness. Given the seemingly inherent link between receiving a cancer diagnosis and developing an increased awareness of one’s own mortality, the present study sought to address the following research question, “What are the experiences and processes by which women with gynecologic cancer construct meaning and manage death anxiety in the face of their cancer diagnosis?” Based on an interpretive grounded theory paradigm, 10 women with gynecologic cancer were interviewed to gather rich, nuanced information about the phenomenology of death anxiety in this understudied cancer population. The primary ways in which participants managed the threat of mortality were to engage in certain socially-sanctioned behaviors related to religion, spirituality, family, identity, and social obligations. These activities served a dual purpose by (1) giving participants the opportunity to fight symbolically or literally against death and (2) allowing them to derive a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Findings from this study offer a unique conceptual understanding of the cancer experience. Implications for theory, research, and practice are discussed.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2009

Included in

Psychology Commons