The elephant in the room: Facilitating conversations about advanced cancer between patients and their spouses.

Conference Paper

233 Background: Interventions to enhance couples’ communication about cancer-related issues can lead to benefits for patients, spouses, and their relationships. We recently conducted a pilot study testing a couples communication skills training (CCST) intervention targeted to couples in which one partner had advanced GI cancer, a population who may need particular help addressing difficult and emotionally-laden topics related to life-limiting illness. Results of quantitative analyses suggested that the intervention was effective in improving relationship satisfaction for these couples. The objective of the current study was to analyze intervention session conversation content to identify themes that couples addressed spontaneously, with the ultimate goal of determining whether an intervention that more specifically guides couples to discuss issues related to end of life and the life-limiting nature of the patient’s illness would be acceptable. Methods: 12 couples (10 male and 2 female patients and their spouses) completed the 6 session CCST intervention which provided training in communication skills for sharing thoughts and feelings and making decisions, and gave couples the opportunity to use these skills to discuss cancer-related issues of their choosing. We conducted qualitative content analysis of the 72 audio-recorded sessions, and coded common and recurrent topics raised by patients and spouses. In addition to identifying breadth of topics, we used theme frequency as an initial gauge of theme importance and acceptability. Results: The most common themes identified were prognosis, treatment, emotional intimacy, completion, spouse’s life after the death of the patient, roles, communication, sublimating needs, emotional support, and family. These represent themes previously identified as important to patients at end of life, as well as themes unique to dyads in intimate relationships. Conclusions: These findings support the feasibility of conducting an intervention that combines training in communication skills with guidance for using these skills to discuss topics that are potentially most meaningful to couples facing advanced illness.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Porter, LS; FIsh, L; Uronis, HE; Zafar, Y; Steinhauser, KE

Published Date

  • October 9, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 34 / 26_suppl

Start / End Page

  • 233 - 233

Published By

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1527-7755

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0732-183X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1200/jco.2016.34.26_suppl.233