It’s like the onion skins are stripped away; Caregiver accounts of supporting a long-term partner through cancer




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Peer reviewed



Purpose: To explore the experiences of caring for a long-term partner or spouse through cancer diagnosis, treatment and aftercare. Background: Although research around caregiving is becoming more theoretically advanced and nuanced, there continues to be a need for in-depth qualitative research into the experiences of caregiving in the context of different caregiver/care-recipient relationships and for different conditions - this is especially apt with cancer because of the serious side-effects of most treatments and possibility of metastasis. Methods: In-depth interviews were carried out in person with 8 long-term partners of an individual who was undergoing or who had recently completed treatment for cancer. Five participants were in opposite-sex relationships and three were in same-sex relationships. Their partners were experiencing a range of cancer types. Participants were interviewed in their homes, typically with their partner present. Data were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Findings: In this paper we explore some of the ways in which relationships change through cancer and its treatment with a focus on two related themes: "cancer has given us the bond" looks at how relationships evolve in the context of cancer threat with a particular focus on sexuality, spirituality and finding 'silver linings'. "we've had to be really inventive about what can we do together" explores the importance of maintaining or developing new shared everyday activities that reinforce intimacy and a sense of dyadic coping Conclusions: Methodological and ethical issues around interviewing couples and applications of the findings for interventions for the support of partners and couples are discussed.



Cancer, Care Giver


Bell, K., Williamson, I., Wildbur, D. (2017) It’s like the onion skins are stripped away; Caregiver accounts of supporting a long-term partner through cancer. Qualitative methods in Psychology Conference, Aberystwyth, Wales, July 2017.


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science