Lived Experiences of Male Spouse of Patients with Metastatic Cancer

Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev, 2013 Jan 14;(1):255-259.

Hui-Chen Lin, Wen-Chuan Lin, Tzu-Ying Lee, Hung-Ru Lin*.

School of Nursing, National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences, Taipei, Taiwan.




Background: Cancer is the leading cause of death in Taiwan. Spouses are generally the main caregivers of affectyed patients but previous studies have seldom investigated the needs of male spouses of patients with metastatic cancer. Purpose: To explore the lived experiences of such male spouses. Methods: A qualitative design using in-depth interviewswasconducted with male spouses of patients with metastatic cancer being treated at the oncology outpatient department in a teaching hospital in northern Taiwan. Results: Nine participants aged 31-78 were interviewed. Content analysis of the interviews revealed five themes: suffering and struggling, difficulty in focusing on communication and interaction, shouldering responsibility, cherishing the love between husband and wife, and enabling each other to live better. This study demonstrated how male spousse experienced physical and psychological suffering when their wives suffered from metastatic cancer. They had to bear the pain of their wife’s suffering, and also had to shoulder the responsibility for everything. All their efforts were put towards enabling each other to live a better life. They cherished the rest of the time they could spend with their wives, even though they had to live a hard life. As the male spouses of patients with metastatic cancer, the participants exhibited both the masculinity of men and the ability to express care and tenderness. Conclusions: The results showed that male spouses need more attention in terms of communication and bearing with suffering. Health care professionals should more actively understand the needs and provide assistance when facing the male spouse of patients with cancer, so as make sure that they possess the ability to take care of their wives. Health care professionals should also assist and properly act as a bridge of communication between husbands and wives.

Keywords: Lived experiences, metastatic cancer, male spouses, Taiwan.



Cancer is the leading cause of death for people in Taiwan. Families especially the spouse are mostly the main caregivers of patients with cancer, the needs of the families should be supported and be paid attention. Many studies have indicated that the emotional distress suffered by the spouse is higher than that suffered by the patient; however, the social support for the spouse is less than that for the patient (Hasson-Ohayon et al., 2010). Some study showed that the quality of life of the caregivers of palliative patients is worse than that of those for patients that are curable (Weitzner et al.,1999). Moreover, with the worsening of the patients’ physical function and emotions, caregivers also experience fatigue and overload (Gaugler et al., 2005). Being as a caregiver, male spouse of metastatic cancer patients are at high risk of physical and psychological distress (Hasson-Ohayon et al., 2010).

In terms of care needs, the level of need for assistance from the husband will vary according to the task, ranging from the lowest 6.7% (toilet) to the highest 63% (shopping; Wagner et al., 2006). When males perform the role of caregivers under traditional cultural influences, the stress affects their lives. They particularly need assistance with the psychological and social aspects of assisting their wives.

This study demonstrated how male spouse experienced physical and psychological sufferings when their wife suffered from metastatic cancer. Particularly, the physiological difficult is not so suffering to them as psychological distress is. The results of this study showed that the male spouses of metastatic cancer patients have deep feelings of suffering and struggling about their wives’ illnesses, and they also feel difficulties in communication such as talking about the cancer with their wives. Even though they are in difficult contexts they demonstrate their abilities and responsibilities as spouses, and they cherish the life experiences formed by such suffering and responsibility.

Traditionally, masculine independence has been considered as the counterpart to feminine dependence. Males suffer because of the pursuit of masculinity, and the formation and breaking of gender role stereotypes is a cyclical process (Chu, 2003). If it is possible to add some new elements for male caregivers when they are being the husband of metastasis cancer patient, maybe there could be some changes to the cycle of stereotype. This study found that in the experiences of males with wives who are metastasis cancer patients, including suffering, empathy, and love for the wives, as well as rational problem solving; this is real life. Following the perspective of postmodernism, people should learn to respect the characteristics differences of genders.

Future studies can combine gender and genetic traits to provide more individualized care services, to find the ways that are easiest for male spouses to express their feelings, or to conduct studies on nursing intervention for communication between married couples.

Implications   for Practice – Health care   professionals should
Be more active to understand the needs of   male spouses Men do not lack the ability of expressing   emotions, but are affected by the traditional concepts of gender differences.   In addition, while men do not actively seek help, they also do not reject it.   Thus, health care professionals should be more active to understand the needs   of male spouses.
Assist male spouses to enhance the   abilities to provide care When communicating with male spouses, it is   not necessary to ask men to show help-seeking behavior like women, or to   erase the masculine ideas. For instance, following the spirit of shouldering   responsibility, health care professionals should assist male spouses to hold   the arrangement of care. This will not contradict personal beliefs, and on   the other hand it will provide cancer patients and their spouses with optimal   care, so that male spouses will not feel helpless.
Encourage the male spouses to express their   emotions Health care professionals should provide   opportunities for the husbands to understand more about their wives’ diseases   and thoughts enthusiastically. They should also encourage the husbands to express   their emotions in ways they feel comfortable with. In addition, health care   professionals should also assist and properly act as a bridge of   communication between husbands and wives.

Acknowledgments: This work was supported by grants from National Science Council (NSC93-2314-B-227-001) and Chin Sin Investment Co. Education and Culture Foundation (GC-CS96-001).


Contact: Hung-Ru Lin, RN, PhD., Director and Associate Professor, School of Nursing, National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences. 365, Ming Te Road Beitou 11219 Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.

TEL: +886228227101 Ext. 3197; FAX: +886228213233, E-mail:


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