Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Understanding the Type of Support Offered Within the Caregiver, Family, and Spiritual/Religious Contexts of Cancer Patients

Context/Objectives: We sought to characterize patterns of social support types (i.e., emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental) within the caregiver/spouse, family, and spiritual/religious contexts for patients diagnosed with cancer. Methods: Focus groups were conducted with mixed groups of patients with cancer and caregiver/family members at a Midwestern comprehensive cancer center. Participants completed brief demographic questionnaires. Focus groups were moderated using semistructured interviews. The 90-minute discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and uploaded into NVivo for analysis using a deductive approach based on four social support types and the constant comparative method. Results: Four focus groups were conducted (n = 25). The average age was 58.4 years (SD = 15.1, range 26.0–76.0). Patient participants reported different malignancy types, including breast, gynecologic, skin, oral, and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Participants acknowledged changes within their social network across the cancer journey. Overall, the caregiver/spouse fulfilled all types of social support. Spirituality/religion was often discussed as a form of appraisal social support. Fellow survivors were sources of informational support. Across groups, nondirective/emotional support was most frequently mentioned. Conclusion: Cancer is a unique experience, and understanding the importance of social support, including types of social support needed from different contexts to best meet the needs of the patient, may promote optimal, patient-centered care across the cancer trajectory.