Perceptions of Social Support Among Individuals with Cancer in eThekwini
Ms Noliwe Gwiza was thrilled to graduate from UKZN with her Master’s in Development Studies for her research that explored the perceptions of social support among individuals living with cancer in eThekwini.
‘This study was personal to me. I lost relatives and friends to cancer. Looking back, I realised that there is so much people do not know about this illness, especially about what cancer really is and how to support someone who is going through this illness,’ said Gwiza.
‘Cancer is one of the most feared diseases because of the painful treatment, side effects, and statistics. People fear cancer more than other life-threatening illnesses. The physical, mental, social, and economic problems caused by cancer have a significant impact on the patient and caregiver’s family. Cancer brings out negative emotions such as anxiety and depression which may affect the patient’s recovery. Without immediate intervention, this can result in reduced quality of life. Social support is therefore imperative when going through this type of illness.’
Gwiza conducted in-depth interviews with twelve cancer patients and two social workers at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Mkhuhla Care Home in Durban to gain an understanding about perceptions of social support among individuals with cancer.
The study findings revealed that social support is a vital resource for individuals with cancer and it promotes health wellbeing. Participants expressed that cancer diagnosis was a life-changing experience which not only affected them psychologically, but was also a burden on their relationships. Psychological factors such as anxiety and depression were reported by most participants. Social support was found to come from a patient’s social network, mostly family, friends, neighbours, church, health professionals, and social media.
The study highlighted that social support systems such as emotional support, informational, and tangible support play a crucial role in reducing the burden of cancer diagnosis among patients. The findings revealed that emotional, informational, appraisal, and tangible support were crucial in protecting patients from traumatic experiences caused by a cancer diagnosis.
‘The lack of social support increases stress and anxiety which negatively impacts an individual diagnosed with cancer. Cancer stigma still exists in society as some patients have experienced it, and there is a lack of cancer awareness to educate people about the disease,’ said Gwiza.
She also felt the impact and significance of her research. ‘The study participants were excited to be part of the study because no one had ever given them a platform where they could talk about their feelings regarding the illness, the challenges they faced and the assistance they desired to get. The interviews ended up being a place where participants would vent and feel like someone was listening to them. Some felt that I was someone they could talk to, laugh with and help them forget about some of their worries. I would just sit and listen to their stories and we would laugh together. It gave me joy that I managed to put a smile on someone’s face and lighten their mood.’
Gwiza believes that her research is going to have a beneficial impact on society. ‘My research contains information that helps educate people about cancer, what cancer is, challenges that are faced by people with cancer, cancer stereotypes, and the different types of support that one can offer to someone going through this illness or the people taking care of that person. Cancer does not affect a patient only, but it also has an impact on those around the patient especially the family.’
She is thankful for the support from her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Shauna Mottiar. She plans to pursue her PhD.
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photograph: Rogan Ward