I recently read with interest the results of a study from the United Kingdom that entailed episodic (4 -12 week intervals) interviewing of patients with advanced cancer (those with a prognosis estimated as less than 1 year) and their caregivers.1 This dyadic sample was comprised of 26 patients with advanced cancer—those having breast, prostate, lung or colorectal primaries, or receiving palliative care—and 24 paired informal/family caregivers who were identified as the person from whom the patient received the most support. The intent of this research was to gain a better understanding of useful strategies for patients to cope effectively when living with advanced cancer. Following the interview component of the study, participants were then invited to participate in focus groups to further explore strategies for intervention development. Key results disclosed an interesting theme.
Participants indicated that while professional staff were accessible and approachable, the knowledge obtained from peers was different in nature and particularly helpful. These exchanges commonly occurred in waiting rooms or during therapy administration. The type of information received included practical tips and normalizing emotional responses.
The authors of this study discovered that coping strategies are rarely discussed during patient/family/health care professional exchanges; rather, the emphasis is frequently on physiological parameters. Patients and their families may then search for options to explore how they are coping and to validate their preferred responses. Professional intervention may also pathologize psychological experiences of anxiety and depression. The final clear message shared from this research team is that there is a two-tiered platform of support that should be offered to patients and families coping with advanced cancer. There is certainly a need for professional intervention, but perhaps the greater need is peer-delivered intervention that can maximize effective coping.
1. Walshe C, Roberts D, Appleton L, et al. Coping well with advanced cancer: A serial qualitative interview study with patients and family carers. PLoS One. 2017; Jan 20;12(1):e0169071.