Resilience in middle-aged partners of patients diagnosed with incurable cancer: A thematic analysis

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Sophie Opsomer, Peter Pype, Emelien Lauwerier, and Jan De Lepeleire

Opsomer, S. et al. (2019) Resilience in middle-aged partners of patients diagnosed with incurable cancer: A thematic analysis. PLoS One, Aug. 14, 2019.


Background Providing care for patients with advanced cancer is often the responsibility of the partner. Being confronted with an incurable cancer diagnosis can be highly disruptive for the patient’s partner and can be considered a potentially traumatic event. However, most caregivers seem to adapt well during the process of providing care. This finding is in line with the concept of resilience in literature: a dynamic process of adapting well, resulting from the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic resources and risks. Resilience is age-related, with the elderly population being higher in resilience as compared to the younger generation. However, resilience has been understudied in middle-aged caregivers.
Aim To explore what intrinsic and extrinsic resources facilitate or hamper resilience in the middle-aged partner of a patient with incurable cancer.
Methods Nine middle-aged partners of patients who died at home of cancer were selected and interviewed in depth within the first year following the death of their partner. A thematic analysis utilizing an inductive approach was conducted.
Findings Resilience was challenged by the partner’s diagnosis of incurable cancer. All participants made use of a set of interacting, caregiver-specific and context-related resources, facilitating a resilient process and leading to positive feelings and even personal growth. The partners demonstrated individual competences: adaptive flexibility, positivism, a sense of selfinitiative and adaptive dependency. Furthermore, they relied on their context: cancer-related professionals and relatives. Context and situation interact continuously. The resulting dynamics were based on the context-availability, meaningful relationships and the patient’s role.
Conclusion A resilient trajectory results from an interplay between individual and contextual resources. To build resilience in middle-aged partners of patients with incurable cancer, health care professionals should address all available resources. Moreover, they should be aware of being part of the caregiver’s context, a complex adaptive system that can be either resilience-supporting or -threatening.

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PLoS One