Purpose: Family caregivers of people with advanced cancer can provide extensive support to the patient. However, the role is not well defined and their experiences are poorly understood. This study aimed to explore how caregivers view their role and the impact of their caregiving.
Methods: A symbolic interactionist framework guided the in-depth individual interviews and grounded theory methodology was used to analyse the data. A total of 17 interviews were conducted: 13 with active caregivers and 4 with bereaved caregivers.
Results: Three dominant codes are presented. Caregivers lacked role recognition, as they struggled to recognise their role existed, even though they took on extensive and challenging tasks. Caregivers reported substantial loss or changes to their self-identity: with some caregivers reporting not being able to stop thinking about caregiving and others having difficulty answering questions about themselves. Caregivers also demonstrated difficulty in taking a break: active caregivers did not consider taking a break, whereas bereaved caregivers retrospectively admitted needing a break but reported an inability to take one.
Conclusions: Caregiving is complex and extensive. People who care for those with advanced cancer are in need of intervention to provide support and assistance to them in their role. However, this needs to be structured with consideration for how caregivers view their role.