The importance of relationships in the experience of cancer: A re-working of the policy ideal of the whole-systems approach



Cunningham N, Forbat L, Hubbard G & Kearney N (2010) The importance of relationships in the experience of cancer: A re-working of the policy ideal of the whole-systems approach. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 14 (1), pp. 23-28.;

Purpose of the research: This paper outlines the importance of interpersonal familial relationships in how people experience cancer. Methods and sample: This paper draws on data from a longitudinal, qualitative study which aimed to explore the experiences of people with cancer within the first year following diagnosis. The sample included fifteen men with colorectal cancer, 3 women with colorectal cancer, twelve women with breast cancer, nine women with gynaecological cancer, six women with lung cancer, eleven men with lung cancer and ten men with prostate cancer. Four people died during the course of the study and ten people chose to withdraw. Key results: Close interpersonal relationships were clearly core mediating features in how the illness was experienced; for example, presenting for symptom investigation was often the result of ongoing interaction and debate between partners. We use the idea of the ‘joint ownership of cancer’ to elucidate the role of relationships in experiencing and understanding the disease. We propose a re-working of the notion of a whole-systems approach to include not just partnership working within health and social care agencies, but centralising the patient's interpersonal relationships as critical in each aspect of their experience of cancer. Conclusions: The findings are discussed in terms of the need for service delivery and research to be mindful of the relational aspects and implications of illness. Nurses can play a key role in how this is operationalised in supporting people affected by cancer in the context of their relationships.

Interpersonal relationship; Joint ownership of cancer; Whole systems working; Cancer Patients; Patient participation; Cancer Psychological aspects; Cancer Patients Care

European Journal of Oncology Nursing: Volume 14, Issue 1

Publication date28/02/2010
Publication date online11/09/2009
Date accepted by journal01/01/1990
Publisher URL

People (2)


Dr Nicola Cunningham

Dr Nicola Cunningham

Lecturer (MacMillan Cancer Support), Health Sciences Stirling

Professor Liz Forbat

Professor Liz Forbat

Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences