“We’re in This Together”: Perceived Effects of Breast Cancer on African American Survivors’ Marital Relationships

Tess Thompson, Maxine Davis, Maria Pérez, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Donna B. Jeffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Cancer affects not only patients but also their spouses or partners. This study examined married African American breast cancer survivors’ perceptions of how cancer affected their marriage, social support from their spouses, and spouses’ physical and mental health. Method: We conducted a thematic analysis of semistructured interviews with 15 married African American breast cancer survivors in the St. Louis, MO, metro area who had participated in a larger randomized controlled trial. Findings: Themes emerged related to the challenges of maintaining mutually supportive relationships. There was variability in the perceived effects of cancer on relationships, uncertainty about cancer’s effects on the emotional and physical health of participants’ husbands, and variability in the perceived adequacy of emotional and tangible support from their husbands. Participants described husbands’ key role in promoting wives’ positive body image and the challenges of negotiating sexual activity. Participants were receptive to help from medical professionals in dealing with relationship issues. Conclusions: Findings show variability in couples’ responses to cancer, with some patients and couples adapting well and others need-ing additional support. During treatment and at follow-up, oncology social workers should assess patients’ and family members’ social support needs, provide mental health services, and provide patient navigation to help patients and caregivers access health care and community resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789-815
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of the Society for Social Work and Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022


  • African American fami-lies
  • breast cancer
  • qualitative research
  • quality of life
  • social support


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