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Losing Health Symbols Because of Nutrition-Related Problems in Advanced Cancer: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Opsomer, Sophie, MD; Joossens, Sofie, PhD, MSc; De Wit, Claudia, BaSc; Lauwerier, Emelien, PhD, MSc; Pype, Peter, MD, PhD

Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing: October 2018 - Volume 20 - Issue 5 - p 492–499
doi: 10.1097/NJH.0000000000000471
Feature Articles

Cancer and nutrition-related problems are extremely distressing events and disturb functioning and daily life. It is recognized that the effects of stressors challenging well-being are mediated by the meaning attached to these stressors. As nutrition-related problems are often being experienced within couples, it is also important to gain understanding of a partner’s interpretation of complaints and whether it coincides with that of the patient.

To explore the meaning attached to nutrition-related problems, a qualitative approach was followed. Seven couples, each composed of a patient with cancer and his/her cohabiting life partner, participated. Data were collected through in-depth interviews and analyzed by an interpretative phenomenological approach.

Nutrition-related problems among patients with advanced cancer are mostly perceived as destroying health and leading to loss of physical, psychological, and social health symbols. Because the meaning patients and their partners attach to nutrition-related problems is individual and dynamic, it is necessary to devote special attention to the issues on different occasions.

The study findings can assist nurses and other professional caregivers in providing psychological support for couples confronted with nutrition-related problems in advanced cancer. It is important to take into account the meaning patients and partners attach to these nutrition-related problems.

Sophie Opsomer, MD, is general practitioner and lecturer, Department of Health and Social Work, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, Belgium.

Sofie Joossens, PhD, MSc, is lecturer and dietician, Department of Health and Social Work, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, Belgium.

Claudia De Wit, BaSc, is student and dietician, Department of Health and Social Work, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, Belgium.

Emelien Lauwerier, PhD, MSc, is teaching assistant, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, and is scientific staff member, Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Ghent University, Belgium.

Peter Pype, MD, PhD, is general practitioner and postdoctoral assistant, Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Ghent University; and is researcher, End-of-Life Care Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

Address correspondence to Sophie Opsomer, MD, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, Herestraat 49, 3000 Leuven, Belgium (sophie.opsomer@ucll.be; sophie.opsomer@telenet.be).

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

© 2018 by The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.