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Keywords:

  • neoplasms;
  • terminally ill;
  • palliative care;
  • communication;
  • psychologic adaptation;
  • hope;
  • prognosis;
  • end-of-life issues

Abstract

BACKGROUND

It is challenging for clinicians to foster coping and allow hope when discussing prognosis and end-of-life (EOL) issues with terminally ill cancer patients and their caregivers. To the authors' knowledge, little research evidence is currently available to guide clinical practice.

METHODS

The authors conducted focus groups and individual interviews with 19 patients with far advanced cancer and 24 caregivers from 3 palliative care (PC) services in Sydney, and 22 PC health professionals (HPs) from around Australia. The focus groups and individual interviews were audiotaped and fully transcribed. Additional focus groups or individual interviews were conducted until no additional topics were raised. The participants' narratives were analyzed using qualitative methodology.

RESULTS

All participant groups believed there were ways of fostering coping and nurturing hope when discussing prognosis and EOL issues. Themes identified from the transcripts regarding ways of helping patients with a limited life expectancy to cope were: 1) emphasize what can be done (namely: a) control of physical symptoms; b) emotional support, care, and dignity; and c) practical support), 2) explore realistic goals, and 3) discuss day-to-day living. Two additional themes were identified regarding ways of fostering hope: the balance between truth telling and nurturing hope, and the spectrum of hope. All these themes were raised by the patients, caregivers, and HPs. However, there were some differences of opinion within the three participant groups.

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the current study demonstrated that most participants believed there were ways of fostering coping and maintaining hope and that HPs have a role in facilitating this with terminally ill cancer patients and their caregivers. Cancer 2005. © 2005 American Cancer Society.