A qualitative study on redefining normality in relatives of patients with advanced cancer

Helen P A Driessen*, Evi M Bakker, Judith A C Rietjens, Khanh L N Luu, Marjolein Lugtenberg, Frederika E Witkamp, Leonieke W Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

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To obtain insight into adaptation processes of redefining normality and its influencing factors in relatives of patients with advanced cancer.


An exploratory qualitative study among relatives of patients with advanced cancer was conducted. Participants were purposively recruited. Ten in-depth individual (relative only) and 16 dyad (relative and patient together) interviews were conducted, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed by means of thematic analysis, drawing on elements of grounded theory, combining both inductive and deductive elements.


Two adaptation processes of (redefining) normality were identified: assimilation and accommodation. The latter was found to be the main way of adapting to new events. Assimilative coping strategies entailed "continuing to do the same activities as done before the disease," "difficulty accepting the situation," "avoiding to think about the disease," and "living in the short term." Accommodative strategies involved "arranging practical matters," "thinking about the future," "doing what is feasible," "engaging in new activities," "accepting the situation," "seeking distraction," "living in the short term," and "focusing on what truly matters in life." The interplay between the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, a deteriorating disease status, and the accompanying uncertainty about the future was of influence on the relatives' coping strategies.


When the new situation is too divergent to assimilate, accommodation may be necessary for relatives to cope with the growing complexity of the consequences of their loved one's illness. Accommodative coping then involves accepting the changing reality and actively making the necessary adjustments to build resilience and cope with the new circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere7211
JournalCancer Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

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© 2024 The Authors. Cancer Medicine published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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