Including Caregivers in the Care of Patients with Cancer Improves Quality of Life

Alice Goodman

September 2013, Vol 4, No 7 - Survivorship

Washington, DC—Real-life experience translated into a research interest for Fedricker D. Barber, RN, MSN, of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX. At the 38th Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society, Ms Barber presented a poster about the relationships between adult cancer survivors’ and caregivers’ social support, self-efficacy for physical activity, and quality-of-life (QOL) issues.

The sample included 101 cancer survivors and caregivers with a median age of 62 years. Physical QOL was significantly higher for caregivers than for cancer survivors at baseline, but after 1 month of caregivers exercising with their patients, no differences were seen in this parameter between the 2 groups. Social support from caregivers or friends in performing physical activity improved participation in physical activity.

“We found that cancer survivors and their caregivers rely on social support to encourage and motivate them to participate in physical activity. These findings suggest that priority should be given to strategies that encourage physical activity for both cancer survivors and their caregivers,” she said.

Approximately 10 years ago, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had received 6 months of antiandrogen hormone therapy. During that relatively short course of treatment, he gained a lot of weight and was very tired. Ms Barber was concerned, because her husband was a young man in his late 40s, and she knew that lack of exercise and weight gain were associated with the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, a second primary cancer, and cancer recurrence. So she sprang into action, so to speak.

“When I saw what was happening to my husband, I decided to become part of the solution. I helped him by buying exercise videos and doing the exercises with him,” Ms Barber explained. “I emphasized to him that exercise would improve his immune system, reduce his fatigue, and prevent muscle wasting.”

She found that her participation encouraged him to exercise, and soon he was losing weight and gaining energy.

This experience led to the incorporation of caregivers and spouses of patients with cancer into an exercise plan in her practice. “I give all patients an education sheet on physical activity, even if they are advanced cancer patients. Exercise helps fatigue, mood, function, and sleep. Some patients think that if they have fatigue, they should stay in bed, but the opposite is true. If you exercise, the fatigue is reduced,” Ms Barber said.

Exercise has been found to prevent the recurrence of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, ovaries, esophagus, and breast. It also helps reduce some of the late effects of cancer treatment, such as poor wound healing, bowel urgency, and outlet obstruction, and it helps build up immune function, she said.