Comparisons Between Cancer Survivors and Family Members on Meaning of the Illness and Family Quality of Life

Suzanne Mellon

ONF 2002, 29(7), 1117-1125. DOI: 10.1188/02.ONF.1117-1125

Purpose/Objectives: To explore the meaning of the illness to the family and family quality of life (QOL) for survivors and family members and to describe similarities and differences between survivors' and family members' meaning of the illness and family QOL.

Research Approach: Descriptive, qualitative.

Setting: Homes of survivors and family members in an urban metropolitan area in the midwestern United States.

Participants: A sample of 123 Caucasian and African American cancer survivors, one to six years after treatment had ended, and their family members (N = 246). Four cancer diagnoses (i.e., breast, colon, prostate, and uterine) were represented.

Methodologic Approach: Two open-ended questions derived from a family model of survivorship. Content analysis was used to analyze the responses.

Main Research Variables: Meaning of the illness and family QOL.

Findings: The positive dimensions of survivorship in meaning of the illness and family QOL were seen for patients and family members, although long-term stressors also were reported. More similarities than differences in meaning and QOL were noted between survivors and family members.

Conclusions: Patients' and family members' perspectives of the meaning of the illness and family QOL are important to assess during survivorship to address both individual- and family-level perspectives in cancer care.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses should offer opportunities for patients and family members to search for positive meaning in the cancer illness, develop strategies to handle stressors that are present during survivorship, and enhance family strengths and resources to promote family QOL.

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