The treating team as a source of support This theme was cited most often as being supportive for patients and caregivers. The treating team, comprised of physicians, nurses, and other staff. impressed patients and caregivers with their understanding the disease’s significant impact on the lives of the patient, family, and caregiver; personalizing the experience with careful listening, empathy, and other appropriate responses to the patient and caregiver; and projecting competence in how they handled patients. Perception of the treating team’s competence meant that patients and caregivers derived support from feeling confident with the specialists’ expertise. This was especially important to the caregivers.

Changes in existing supports The second themereferred to changes to the participants’ current social networks caused by cancer. The significant life-changing impact of cancer was reflected in the sub-theme that cancer changes everything. These changes are not just felt by the patient whose whole focus is now fighting cancer, but also by the caregiver who may have to make major changes, such as relocating to be closer to the patient. Further complicating this theme, some patients were reluctant to ask for support because they did not want to be a burden to others; however, some chose to be open about their disease and their needs. Many people will “step up” in unexpected ways to be supportive, whereas others may actually let the patient down. 

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Differing dimensions of support This theme reflects how supportive family, friends, and healthcare providers can be, including shared experiences with family or friends or help with transportation to appointments and/or meal preparation. Emotional support is important; those who are going through such a difficult time rely on the empathy and interest of others, including their healthcare providers. Included in this theme is the sub-theme of financial support, a significant issue for younger patients who often have major ongoing expenses such as mortgage, childcare, and the reality of missed work. In addition, all patients incur some out-of-pocket expenses.

The Importance of the Treatment Team

Although patients with colorectal cancer may not have the popular support networks that those with breast cancer value, this study demonstrates that many types of less obvious support are available for patients and caregivers to rely on. The researchers note that the most important support network is the treatment team, which needs to be responsive to patients and caregivers alike.


1. Law E, Levesque JV, Lambert S, Girgis A. The “sphere of care”: a qualitative study of colorectal cancer patient and caregiver experiences of support within the cancer treatment settingPLoS One.2018;13(12):e0209436.