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Ten years ago, the diagnosis of cancer used to be accompanied by the phrase: “You have six months to live.” Now, however, a cancer patient has a better chance of survival.

cancer survival has improved a lot in recent years. There are more and more people who live for long periods of time with this pathology, which can become a chronic process. We owe it both to therapeutic advances and to the increase in preventive activities and early diagnosis campaigns.

However, cancer is still a very hard disease, which significantly impact in the life of the person who suffers from it and in that of the family that cares for him.

From the moment of diagnosis, family members strive to respond to their relative’s care needs, provide physical and emotional support, while trying to deal with their own fears and concerns. This combination usually generates a situation of stress, which affects the quality of life of the family.

Also, as the person gets sick, they need more care. This implies that family members may be forced to renegotiate roles or even give up their own social activities and work responsibilities in order to take on the task of caring as a priority. That is why the oncological disease, in most cases, is accompanied by a significant impact on family dynamics and functioning. So, although it is the patient who is directly affected by the disease, the whole family suffer its impact.

Not everything is going to get worse

Despite the many challenging aspects involved in the disease trajectory, families have also described rewarding aspects. Among others a increased affection and empathy, as well as closer family relationships and a greater solidarity.

On the other hand, recent research indicates that families who are able to find a meaning to the oncological disease situation they also report a greater acceptance of things, a more positive view of themselves and a better prioritization of goals.

a family affair

All this evidence leads us to join the statements made by experts in the area of ​​Family Nursing that indicate that cancer should be considered as “a family affair”.

Cancer patients and their families have an interdependent relationship, so that the patient’s disease situation affects the entire family. In turn, the functioning of the family has repercussions on the state of health and well-being of the patient. This explains why several investigations conclude that health professionals achieve more effective results when they provide a simultaneous support to patients and their families. That is, treating them together creates a synergistic effect that is stronger than treating the patient alone, and therefore care should be directed at the entire family unit.

To date, most of the interventions aimed at the family approach it as a resource for the attention and care of the affected person. In other words, the main objective of these interventions is to train the family to manage the disease, increasing their knowledge and skills.

However, this type of intervention does not take into account the impact that the disease has on the family unit, as well as their involvement in everyday life.

Balance between caring for and maintaining the vital project

As health professionals, for the family to find a balance between caring for their sick family member and maintaining their vital project, we need to help them face the challenges presented by the oncological disease. In this context, it would be important to ask ourselves: what importance do we give to family care within our professional practice? Are we health professionals sufficiently trained to provide this type of care? Do we have the necessary tools and resources to carry it out?

With the aim of improving the care provided by nursing staff to oncology patients and their families, the Faculty of Nursing of the University of Navarra, together with the University Clinic of Navarra, is working on a pioneering research project in Spain to include Family Nursing in clinical practice. Specifically in the oncology area of ​​the Navarra University Clinic.

It is a long-term project that is developed in several phases. In the first phase of this project, a diagnosis of the context of clinical practice in oncology has been carried out.

The results indicate that oncology nurses recognize the importance of the family in caring for cancer patients and show a positive attitude towards including the family in care. In addition, they state that, in order to cope with the disease situation, the adaptation of the patient must be promoted together with that of the family, with the nurse herself being a point of support in this process.

However, the nurses in this research recognize that they do not have enough confidence in their abilities to work with the family, which has repercussions and makes the care process difficult. Nurses consider that in order to provide adequate care, it is essential that professionals are trained in Family Nursing. In other words, they must have the necessary skills and aptitudes to be able to carry out the family care process satisfactorily.

In addition, they highlight that both lack of time and workload represent a significant barrier when it comes to implementing family-centered care in clinical practice in oncology.

These findings provide the basis for the second phase of the project: the design and delivery of a Family Nursing training program aimed at training nursing professionals to provide a family-centered approach to care. As well as for the development of strategies that guarantee the effective and sustainable implementation of the knowledge of Family Nursing in clinical practice in oncology.

We believe that through this project we will be able to provide families with quality care and improve the health outcomes of cancer patients.

Christina Alfaro, Professor in the Nursing Department of the Adult Person of the Faculty of Nursing, university of Navarra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.

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