Although nursing literature on 'caring' has proliferated in recent years, relatively little empirical data exists about which aspects of nursing practice are those recognized and valued by patients. The purpose of the qualitative study presented here is to explore the manner in which one group of Swedish patients describe and explain the domain of nursing. The data presented derives from interviews with persons diagnosed with cancer during 1987 at one general hospital in the greater Stockholm area. Forty-six patients were interviewed in 1988-89, and 20 of these survivors were interviewed again in 1992. The domain of nursing practice 'expected' by the patients was seen to be defined positively, both by what nurses 'are' and 'do', as well as negatively, by what they do not do. It was found that the patient--nurse contact, as described by these patients, was between an individual patient and a nursing collective. Finally, the need for local rather than global criteria for evaluating nursing care is discussed.