Social support is associated with a better adjustment to breast cancer, whereas inadequate social support increases psychological distress. However, the period between diagnosis and surgery is particularly stressful, and few studies have addressed the significance of social support in this period.
The purpose of this study was to describe women’s individual experiences of social support after having received a breast cancer diagnosis and awaiting surgery.
A qualitative descriptive design was used. Individual semistructured interviews were conducted the day before surgery with 21 women aged 41 to 73 years with newly diagnosed breast cancer at a Norwegian university hospital.
Methods of qualitative meaning condensation analysis revealed 5 themes: available support, information and advice, care, having confidants, and balancing distance and closeness. Knowing that both family and healthcare professionals were available and caring gave a sense of security. Social support gave strength, although too much could be experienced as difficult and frightening. The women needed a balance between distance from and closeness to their social network. Both professional information and someone professional with whom to talk personally were essential.
Social support is an important resource for women with breast cancer but can be a double-edged sword as the network’s offered support can sometimes be a burden.
Healthcare professionals could call each patient, encourage the patients to call if they want, and, if preferred, offer face-to-face consultations for women with breast cancer awaiting surgery. This contact should be a supportive, informative, and confidential available resource.
Authors Affiliations: Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bergen University College (Ms Drageset and Dr Underlid); Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen (Dr Lindstrøm); Haraldsplass Deaconess University College (Dr Giske), Bergen, Norway.
The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence: Sigrunn Drageset, MSc, RN, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bergen University College, Møllendalsveien 6, N-5009 Bergen, Norway (Sigrunn.Drageset@hib.no).
Accepted for publication September 4, 2011.