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Waiting and Liminality: A Phenomenon of Spousal Caregiving?

Sabo, Brenda PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e31828ee266

Background: Waiting is an inevitable reality for cancer patients and their families. To date, a paucity of research has explored the meaning given to the emotional experience of waiting by spouses who provide care for cancer patients.

Objective: The purpose of this discussion article is to introduce readers to the concept of liminality as a mechanism to enhance understanding of the experience of waiting. Liminality may be thought of as the space betwixt and between.

Methods: The findings from a mixed-methods exploratory study that explored the experience of caregiving among spouses of hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients are used to illustrate the experience of waiting.

Results: Waiting is discussed from the perspective of disembodied (clock/calendar time) and embodied (how waiting is lived) time. Liminality is introduced as a transitional and transformational phase where individuals create meaning out of the experience of waiting.

Conclusion: Although waiting may be a universal experience, our understanding of the experience within the context of cancer remains a poorly understood phenomenon. Lost in disembodied time are the myriad and complex nuances of the individual experience. Conceptualizing waiting as embodied and liminal may offer an alternative perspective that may enhance our understanding of the experience particularly as it applies to caregivers of cancer patients.

Implications for Practice: By enhancing our understanding of the experience of spousal caregiving, in particular waiting, effective interventions may be developed to better support spousal caregivers across the cancer care continuum to reduce psychosocial distress.

Author Affiliation: School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, and Psychosocial Oncology Team, Cancer Care Program, Capital District Health Authority, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Funding support was received from International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care & Canadian Blood and Marrow Transplant Group.

The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Brenda Sabo, PhD, RN, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Room 109, Forrest Bldg, 5869 University Ave, PO Box 15000, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4R2 (

Accepted for publication February 4, 2013.

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins