AIM: This paper is a report of a study to explore patients' experiences of having chemotherapy in a day hospital. BACKGROUND: The nature of cancer care has changed dramatically in recent years with most patients receiving chemotherapy in a day hospital. Despite recognition of the need to explore patients' experience of cancer treatment, little research has been undertaken in this specific area. METHOD: A qualitative approach was adopted with a convenience sample of 30 patients diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemotherapy in a day hospital. Data were collected from January 2002 to March 2003 using unstructured tape-recorded interviews and analysed using a narrative framework. FINDINGS: Participants viewed their experiences of chemotherapy treatment from the initial perspective of having to face their need to have chemotherapy. Their experiences in the day hospital had both positive and negative dimensions. Positive aspects related to maintaining a sense of normality and absence of the sick role, whilst negative aspects were related to the dehumanizing, factory-like system in the day hospital. Organizational issues also influenced experiences, including the sense of comradeship with other patients. Participants indicated the need to remain positive about the future and to learn to 'work around' the treatment. CONCLUSION: More effective methods are needed to develop patients' confidence and motivation to realize their self-care potential, together with increased awareness of organizational influences on patient experiences. Nurses need to focus on the 'here and now' concerns of patients as opposed to a biomedical perspective relating to treatment regimes, survival and prognosis.