Purpose: This exploratory descriptive study examined the role and strengths of the family when supporting the younger woman (<50 years) after a diagnosis of breast cancer. The perspectives of women and family members were sought.
Method: Participants were recruited from oncology outpatient units in Australia. Semi-structured interviews guided by the Family Resiliency Framework were undertaken with 14 young women with breast cancer and 11 family members who reflected on the roles of family. Transcripts were analysed individually and in family groupings.
Results: Women with breast cancer and their family members experienced a range of emotions during the treatment period. Roles within the family changed as members responded to their circumstances. Analysis of interview transcripts identified the following primary themes; 'just being there', 'paradox of help' and 'buffer from society'. A secondary theme related to support, specifically 'the changing role of support for family members', highlighting the strengths and experiences of family.
Conclusion: Recognition needs to be given to the complexity of changing roles experienced by young women with breast cancer and their families. Young women with breast cancer require unique forms of support because of the nature of their experience. Family roles were shaped through a shared sense of commitment and open communication amongst members. Families may demonstrate a range of strengths but are also vulnerable during this stressful period. Health professionals need to be aware of the possible needs of families, assess their adaptation to changing circumstances, and intervene through the provision of information, and counselling to enhance coping.
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