Identifying Support Needs for Caregivers, Patients With Colorectal Cancer

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Social support can help relieve cancer related stress for patients as they negotiate the life changes that living with cancer requires.
Social support can help relieve cancer related stress for patients as they negotiate the life changes that living with cancer requires.

Many types of support lend strength to patients fighting cancer. The most well-known support networks attend to those on the breast cancer journey. Some organizations provide services such as makeup instruction, complete with cosmetics as part of the package. Others help the patient choose “cold caps” that minimize hair loss, and when those options are not applicable, they offer pro bono hair styling consultations complete with wigs and wig styling. Survivors who have been through this journey are available to lend emotional and experiential support to patients grappling with agonizing decisions over what type of breast reconstruction to consider, or whether and what type of nipple tattoo to have, or whether to simply “go flat.” From the time the breast cancer patient puts on that pink robe for the mammography that launches her battle, she is enveloped in the stress-lessening support of committed professionals and of survivors who have gone through the same experience.

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Do patients with other types of cancer benefit from the same kinds of support networks? How do patients with colorectal cancer fare in similar situations? Do they have a similar “sphere of care” to support them? Researchers in Australia sought some answers, and their published study results lend insight.1

We live in a society that thrives on systems of social support, which are especially a necessity for people with cancer. Social support can help relieve cancer related stress for patients and their caregivers as they negotiate the life changes that living with cancer requires. In exploring the stress-relieving role of social support, the Australian group found interesting dynamics. For example, because cancer treatment can be long term, the setting in which the patient is treated serves as a form of social support in itself. Evidence demonstrates a potential weakening of the support offered by family and friends over time; therefore, the treatment setting remains important for patients with colorectal cancer and their caregivers.

Themes in Care 

For this study, participants were patients in the radiation oncology department of the Canberra Hospital in Canberra, Australia. Eligibility criteria for participants included being a patient with colorectal cancer or a caregiver of a patient with the disease, age older than 18 years, and reasonably fluent in English to understand an interviewer. The patient had to have completed radiation treatment within the prior 4 months. Twenty participants were enrolled: 12 were patients, 8 were caregivers; age range was 31 to 82 years; 11 were male, 9 were female. All participants were interviewed individually in private settings either in the hospital or at home.

The study results revealed that cancer care followed 3 themes: the treating team as a source of support, changes in existing supports, and differing dimensions of support.  

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