Clinical Support for Families in the Palative Care Phase of Hematologic or Oncologic Illness
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Nursing and Public Health
The stressful impact of cancer on the family of a patient is well documented. The most recent data from the American Cancer Society indicates that in 2000 approximately 1,220,100 new cancer cases were diagnosed and about 552,000 Americans were expected to die of cancer. These figures however, do not convey the number of people, such as partners, children, parents, and extended family members, whose lives are also affected by the patient’s cancer diagnosis. Family members have their own needs for information, emotional support, and practical assistance with providing care. Family members whose own needs are not met are less able to sustain their care-giving role and are more likely to experience mental and physical health deterioration themselves. This article focuses on families’ needs for support and care when the patient is receiving palliative care. Health care professionals providing care to patients with hematologic or oncological illnesses are coming to understand that care for the family must begin at the time of patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Families who do not receive adequate information and support in the early phases of the patient’s treatment have greater needs, less trust and confidence in the health care system, and cope more poorly in the later stages than families who have been informed and supported throughout the course of the illness. This article documents the needs of families in the palliative phase of a patient’s hematologic or oncologic illness and provides empirically based recommendations for assessment and care of the family unit.