Pain as a metaphor for illness. Part I: Impact of cancer pain on family caregivers.

B. R. Ferrell, M. Rhiner, M. Z. Cohen, M. Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


While previous research has focused on patients' or professional caregivers' perspective of pain, this study describes cancer pain from the family caregivers' perspective. Chronic pain, which is associated with malignant disease, produces an intense burden on the patient as well as on the entire family. This qualitative study included 85 family caregivers of patients with cancer pain. Data were collected using an interview guide, and verbatim responses were analyzed for themes. The results identified four themes surrounding family descriptions of pain (anatomic descriptions, hidden pain, family fear and suffering, and overwhelming/unendurable pain) and three themes surrounding family experience of pain (helplessness, coping by denying feelings, and a wish for death). This study documents the important role that family members play in cancer treatment. If the number of patients receiving care in the home from family members continues to grow, this role will become even more important. Part I of this two-part paper focuses on the impact that cancer pain has on family caregivers and concludes that pain does have a tremendous impact on the family because it is perceived as a metaphor of progressive illness and death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1303-1309
Number of pages7
JournalOncology nursing forum
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology(nursing)


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