• cancer;
  • communication;
  • emotion;
  • information;
  • interviews;
  • nursing;
  • patient

Aim.  This paper reports the findings of a study exploring the experiences and expectations of patients with cancer of supportive communication in the context of Chinese culture.

Background.  Patients with cancer experience psychological distress, particularly in the initial period after diagnosis. Supportive communication can positively affect their psychological adjustment. Previous studies have reported the functions, contents, types and sources of informational support for patients with cancer in Western studies, but patients from different cultural backgrounds who have cancer might have different preferences in seeking support.

Methods.  Semi-structured interviews were carried out with a convenience sample of 20 Chinese patients with cancer during 2002. Content analysis was used to identify themes within the data.

Findings.  Chinese patients with cancer have a substantial need to receive informational and emotional support during the period of their hospitalization. Their support networks include doctors, nurses, family members, relatives and fellow patients. The expectations of support from different sources varied according to the nature of the relationship between patients with cancer and providers of support. Patients were active in seeking information and they perceived communication with doctors, nurses and fellow patients as beneficial. Most would only express emotional needs to their close family members and did not expect healthcare professionals to provide emotional support. However, interviewees perceived the caring behaviours of nurses and the emotional support of fellow patients as two important sources of support.

Conclusion.  For Chinese patients, coping with illness and misfortune is largely a private and family affair, and most of them did not expect nurses to meet their emotional needs. Nurses should be aware of the type, timing and source of supportive communication that Chinese patients find valuable. This will help them to provide the appropriate support to meet patients’ needs.