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Recent scientific approaches to cancer patients draw attention to the psychological aspects of the disease and the involvement of their families, who are forced to reorganize themselves in order to manage the patient's illness. Functional responses to a stressful event facilitate open communication between family members and empathy for the patient's children, who need to be involved and informed about the illness in a clear and open fashion. The primary goal of this observational study was to explore the communication styles used by cancer-stricken parents with their children and to identify a correlation with the patient's levels of anxiety and depression and their ability to cope. We also sought to understand whether location, severity, and time from diagnosis influenced communication, coping, anxiety, or depression.
From September of 2011 to July of 2015, 151 questionnaires were given to patients who had received at least one course of chemotherapy. The instruments that we employed were the Openness to Discuss Cancer in the Nuclear Family Scale, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and the Mini-Mental Adjustment to Cancer Scale. Our sample included patients with children aged from 3 to 18 years. The patients had different types of cancer, mainly gastrointestinal and breast cancer. Their disease was at the metastatic stage in approximately 20% of patients.
Our results showed statistically significant correlations between higher levels of anxiety and depression and more closed communication styles. The coping styles “hopelessness/helplessness,” “cognitive avoidance,” and “anxious preoccupation” were associated with a closed communication style that is correlated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Tumor location, time from diagnosis, and stage of disease did not show statistically significant correlations with anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms, or communication styles.
Significance of results:
Our study confirmed what has been reported in the literature: high levels of anxiety and depression affect communication among family members. Not surprisingly, the “fighting spirit” coping style engenders open communication.
Caregivers play a key role in the management of patients with cancer. However, some studies have suggested that caregivers have even more unmet needs than the patients.
To better identify the needs and changes in the lifestyles of the caregivers in our practice and to plan a targeted support project to decrease caregiver burden, we administered the Caregiver's QoL Index–Cancer (CQoLC) to 200 consecutive caregivers. This questionnaire assesses psychological well-being, the relationship with healthcare professionals, administration of finances, lifestyle disruption, and positive adaptation.
Our data showed that being a caregiver to a patient with metastatic disease negatively affected females mostly with regard to mental and emotional burden, while men complained more about their sexual life (42.3 vs. 33.6%), although this result was not significant. Some 93.5% of caregivers reported that they were pleased with their role, while 83.4% were concerned about financial difficulties.
Significance of results:
We strongly believe that early supportive care directed not only at patients but also to caregivers may improve the quality of life (QoL) in this population. We are currently developing a targeted support project to decrease caregiver burden.
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