Background: Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia and has a substantial social and economic impact on individuals, families and the communities of Indigenous Australians. Social support has been found to have direct and buffering effects on wellbeing and emotional adjustment in cancer in the general population, however the role of social support in adjustment to cancer in Indigenous patients has not previously been studied.
Methods: Social support received during treatment was assessed in a cross-sectional study of unmet supportive care needs involving 248 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait adult cancer patients in Queensland. Items were mapped onto the Cheng et al. (2013) framework for social support. Emotional adjustment was assessed using the Distress Thermometer and Cancer Worry Chart.
Results: Two cohorts were identified: 138 (55.6%) participants who ‘stayed at home’ while receiving treatment and 110 (44.4%) participants who needed to ‘move away from home’ to receive treatment. The findings show that participants in both cohorts in the functional dimension (emotional) were supported by regular contact with someone to talk to, and were escorted to the appointments. Furthermore, in the functional dimension (instrumental) half or more of the participants in both cohorts reported using support and community services; for the moved away from home cohort. the majority used the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme.
Conclusion: The participants in this study appeared to have the main elements of social support in place but the link between the availability and perceived social support did not reflect in emotional adjustment to cancer. Further investigation should be conducted to improve the understanding of how social support and the various types of support are influenced by socio-cultural factors and beliefs and affect adjustment to cancer.
Cheng, H, Cheng, H. et al. 2013, ‘Social support and quality of life among Chinese breast cancer survivors: findings from a mixed-methods study, European Journal of Oncology Nursing, vol. 17, no. 6, pp 788–96.