This article explores the concept of liminality and its potential application to understand the experience of being diagnosed and receiving treatment for head and neck cancer.The article describes how we identified liminality in people who had received surgical treatment of head and neck cancer and why it is important that the clinical team understand and consider liminality in their interventions, to improve outcomes.
Background: Head and neck cancer is a disease that may affect the way an individual looks and functions, specifically with regard to eating and drinking. This qualitative study identified the perceptions of people who had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer and had undergone surgical treatment, to develop our understanding of what happens to people beyond their physical recovery in hospital.
Methods: We carried out 1:1 face-to-face interviews with people in the acute phase of recovery following head and neck cancer surgery. We analysed and verified themes from the data, using an interpretive phenomenological methodology.
Results: The study identified a liminal phase which people described during their recovery from head and neck cancer surgery. Individuals described no longer being the people they were before surgery, but not yet the people they would be. We explored this concept and suggest ways in which the clinical team may identify and explore liminality post head and neck surgery. This information may help clinical teams to support people manage complex issues related to the sense of self, identity and recovery after head and neck cancer surgery.