A Little Help from My Friends: Social Support in Palliative Rehabilitation

N. A. Rutkowski, S. Lebel, K. Richardson, B. Mutsaers, M. Chasen, A. Feldstain

Abstract


Background Social support has been shown to buffer some difficulties of living with advanced cancer. The Palliative Rehabilitation Program (prp) was an interdisciplinary outpatient program offering post-treatment palliative rehabilitation to patients with advanced cancer. Social support was directly integrated into the program. The aim of the present study was to examine the types and sources of social support that patients found most beneficial.

Methods Twelve patients participated in 30-minute semi-structured interviews. Thematic content analysis was used to explore the social support experiences of those patients in the prp. Patients were eligible to participate in the interview if they had completed the 8-week prp, spoke English, and did not have cognitive or auditory impairments affecting their ability to participate.

Results The main sources of support reported by participants were team members and spouse, family, or close friends; peers attending the program; and spiritual beliefs. Social support varied based on sex and age, such that, compared with women, men reported relying less on social support, and the supportive needs of younger (≤50 years of age) and older participants differed. Team members were endorsed as frequently as family as social support.

Discussion Emotional support was endorsed with the greatest frequency. The members of the interdisciplinary care team were also providers of emotional and informational support for patients, bolstering the support received from caregivers. Widowed or divorced women might rely on health care providers more readily than do married men, who chose their wives as support. Future rehabilitation programs might consider the importance of an interdisciplinary team, the formal integration of caregivers, and the incorporation of spirituality to meet the unique supportive needs of patients with advanced cancer.


Keywords


Advanced cancer; social supports; palliative care; rehabilitation; qualitative studies; interdisciplinary care



DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3747/co.25.4050






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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)