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Preliminary study of themes of meaning and psychosocial service use among informal cancer caregivers

  • Allison J. Applebaum (a1), Carol J. Farran (a2), Allison M. Marziliano (a1), Anna R. Pasternak (a3) and William Breitbart (a1)...



The burden experienced by informal caregivers (ICs) of patients with advanced cancer is well documented. ICs are at risk for anxiety and depression, as well as existential concerns that arise when a loved one is facing a terminal illness. Few psychosocial interventions focus on existential concerns of ICs. However, a growing body of literature indicates that finding meaning in the experience of being an IC for a person with cancer has the potential to buffer against burden. The purpose of this study was to collect preliminary descriptive data regarding caregiver burden, meaning, and psychosocial service use to inform the adaptation of a meaning-centered intervention for ICs.


Twenty-five caregivers and 32 patients completed brief, anonymous questionnaires that asked about their role as a caregiver or their perception of their loved one as a caregiver, caregiver burden, and psychosocial service use.


Caregivers and patients identified anxiety and depression as top correlates of burden experienced by caregivers, whereas guilt, issues with role/sense of identity, and self-care were additional areas of concern. The majority of caregivers were not receiving psychosocial services, although they almost unanimously reported desiring services. A greater proportion of patients than caregivers believed that an intervention designed to enhance meaning would ameliorate burden, but, nevertheless, close to three quarters of caregivers reported interest in participating in such an intervention.

Significance of results:

These study findings provide further support for, at a minimum, engaging ICs of persons with advanced cancer in interventions that address existential issues, mental health, self-care, and service use. Such interventions are likely to improve the quality of life of both patients with cancer and their ICs.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Allison J. Applebaum, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 641 Lexington Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10022. E-mail:


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