Reviews of the literature have identified few consistent theoretical approaches in the assessment of death anxiety and death attitudes for patients diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness, such as cancer. This illness experience forces patients to contemplate their mortality. The present study employed a portion of the Death Anxiety Model to examine the relationships between death salience, beliefs about the self, beliefs about the world, death meaning, and death anxiety. Three groups (N = 121) who differed on death salience were examined: cancer survivors (intrapersonal - high salience), spouses of cancer survivors (interpersonal - moderate salience), and healthy patients with no previous exposure to a life threatening illness or cancer (no personal - low salience). It was hypothesized that 1) the salience groups would differ on death anxiety and death meaning, 2) positive death meaning would be negatively correlated with death anxiety, and 3) death salience group membership would be predicted by beliefs about the self, beliefs about the world, death meaning, and death anxiety. Results showed that the salience groups differed on existential well-being, death meaning (fear and avoidance) and death anxiety. Healthy patients were more avoidant of death than either the cancers survivors or the spouses. However, Spouses of cancer survivors viewed death with more fear than the Healthy group and the cancer survivors themselves. Death salience group membership was correctly classified for 70.3% of patients as predicted by length of time married, causal attributions — external and personal control, belief in a just world, Existential well-being, death fear, death avoidance, neutral acceptance, approach acceptance, escape acceptance, and death anxiety. These results indicate that the experience of a life threatening disease such as cancer has a profound influence on the meaning of death, for both patients and the patient's spouse.

LLU Discipline





Graduate School

First Advisor

Kelly R. Morton

Second Advisor

Hector Betancourt

Third Advisor

Joanna Worthley

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Death -- psychological aspects; Death -- psychology; Anxiety.



Page Count

ix; 80

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives

Included in

Psychology Commons