Friendship in the stable phase of cancer


Session type:


Hilde Buiting1,Michelle van Eijk2,Daniel de Vries3
1Netherlands Cancer Institute,2University of Amsterdam / Netherlands Cancer Institute,3university of Amsterdam



Little is known about the added value and sustainability of friendship during the care for (chronically) ill patients. Friends, however, can play an important role in supporting their ill friend and increase their mental well-being. We explored friends’ experiences in supporting ill friends (patients) in the stable phase of incurable cancer and to explore how social networks can contribute to their well-being.


We performed a qualitative study based on 14 in-depth interviews with friends of patients living with protracted incurable cancer. Analysis was done using grounded theory. Interviews were performed at home or at the participants’ office.


Some participants felt burdened with or forced to provide more care than they could. Nevertheless, they also acknowledged that there might be circumstances to step in more than they were initially willing to at some point. Moreover, participants’ experiences with their ill friends impacted their personal ideas about cancer. They emphasized the ever-present knowledge of cancer inside their friends’ body as a “time bomb”. In this time-period, the extent to which their ill friends were transparent about their own emotions influenced the amount and type of support they received of friends. In addition, participants reported that the absence of news on the course of the disease could result in little urgency to invest in their friends’ relationship.


Disease experiences of ill friends provided options for friends to reflect on their own life. At the same time, friends were constantly negotiating and renegotiating their relationship depending on the severity of the disease, transparency of patients about their illness, their experiences with previous cancer patients, and personal circumstances in life. Although a decrease in friendship may impact a patients’ quality of life, friends also need to be protected against providing more care then they are willing or able to give.