Concerns of Family Caregivers of Patients With Cancer Facing Palliative Surgery for Advanced Malignancies

Tami Borneman

David Z.J. Chu

Lawrence D. Wagman

Betty R. Ferrell

Gloria Juarez

Laurence E. McCahill

Gwen C. Uman

ONF 2003, 30(6), 997-1005. DOI: 10.1188/03.ONF.997-1005

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the concerns of family caregivers of patients undergoing palliative surgeries for advanced malignancies.

Design: Descriptive study with repeated measures.

Setting: A National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the western United States.

Sample: Family caregivers (N = 45) of patients with cancer.

Methods: Family caregivers were assessed prior to planned palliative surgery and at two weeks and six weeks postsurgery. Quantitative assessment of caregiver quality of life (QOL) occurred at each interval. A subset of nine caregivers also participated in a structured interview presurgery and at two weeks postsurgery.

Main Research Variables: Caregiver concerns, QOL, decision making.

Findings: Family caregivers have important QOL concerns and needs for support before and after surgery for advanced disease. Psychological issues were most pronounced, and common concerns included uncertainty, fears regarding the future, and loss. Family caregivers have concerns about surgical risks and care after surgery and voiced recognition of the declining status of patients.

Conclusions: Surgery is an important component of palliative care and profoundly impacts family caregivers of patients with cancer. The needs of family caregivers are multiple and complex, requiring ongoing assessment to provide interventions that help them cope and ultimately improve their QOL. This important topic requires further research and clinical attention.

Implications for Nursing: Findings suggest that family caregivers experience their own trajectory during the course of their loved ones' cancer, with surgery being a part of the course. This includes their profound emotions that may swing like a pendulum from one minute to the next. Nurses need to assess family caregivers in addition to patients to provide support and resources that will help increase caregivers' QOL.

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