The Multidimensional Impact of Serious Illness on Partners of Young Women with Breast Cancer



Borstelmann, Nancy A., “The Multidimensional Impact of Serious Illness on Partners of Young Women with Breast Cancer,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed December 4, 2020,


The Multidimensional Impact of Serious Illness on Partners of Young Women with Breast Cancer


Borstelmann, Nancy A.




Background: Scant research addresses the impact of cancer diagnosis on partners of young women with breast cancer, their coping, and unmet needs. These younger caregivers may be particularly vulnerable to the stress of managing the complexity of cancer care along with their affected partner. Also, little is known about the wellbeing of these partners when active treatment is completed and the couple has transitioned to survivorship.

Methods: Partners of young women with Stage 0-IV breast cancer, diagnosed at age ≤40 years, were invited to participate in a survey evaluating psychosocial concerns, coping efforts, and mental health outcomes with a focus on factors that may be amenable to intervention. Logistic regression analysis explored predictors of anxiety in partners in survivorship; linear regression analysis examined predictors of quality of life among parenting partners. Responses to quantitative measures and an open-ended question were explored among participants with an affected partner in active treatment.

Results: Analyses revealed a number of individual and relationship related concerns, including a high proportion of partners with symptoms of anxiety that would benefit from attention. A strong relationship between maladaptive coping strategies and anxiety was demonstrated; lower educational attainment was also tied to higher anxiety. Anxiety, parenting concerns, sexual dissatisfaction, and support needs were significantly linked to poorer quality of life. Post-traumatic growth as a result of cancer was identified among some partners.

Conclusion: The results of these exploratory studies have valuable implications for young breast cancer survivors and their partners, and suggest factors with programmatic and intervention potential. Ideally, mental health and unmet cancer-related needs in both patients and partners are identified early and reassessed at nodal points of care, including disease recurrence, metastatic disease, as well as transition to survivorship and longer-term follow up. Patients may benefit from attention to partners’ needs, which if not addressed, may have negative impact on their own, and their children’s, adjustment to illness. There is opportunity to build upon this research with more diverse populations and longitudinal studies aimed at uncovering additional insights into factors that influence variations in partners’ adjustment to the impact of cancer over the course of care.


Simmons College (Boston, Mass.)


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Doctoral Dissertations