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Cancer Care from the Heart: Can The 5 Love Languages™ Help Cancer Patients?

May 26, 2022

Texas Oncology has joined a study with student researchers at The University of Texas that uses The 5 Love Languages™ to better understand the importance of emotional support between cancer patients and their partners and how that support affects patients’ quality of life.

Stephanie Broussard, LCSW-S, APHSW-C, director of palliative care and social work at Texas Oncology, who is the Texas Oncology principal investigator on this study, explains the purpose of the study and why her team decided to participate.

1) Why is this type of research important for the future of cancer care? How does quality of life play a role in Texas Oncology’s holistic approach to patient care? Why is it important?

Many studies have focused on the outcomes of patients whose clinical team addressed their emotional needs. Every day we are learning more about the psychosocial needs of patients and the impact cancer can have on their emotional wellbeing. We can improve how we treat patients’ medical symptoms while also learning how to treat their emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. It is important we care for the whole patient, which includes those who care for them.

We know support systems play a key role in patient care. For many of our patients, we spend time talking about their loved ones and the dynamic challenges they are facing because of cancer. So, it’s important to explore how to optimize the supportive love between patients and their partners, especially since patients are surrounded by family more often than their clinical team.

2) How is Texas Oncology collaborating with the researchers at The University of Texas? Who from Texas Oncology is involved and in what ways are you supporting the study?

The Texas Oncology staff members supporting the entirety of this study include myself, Penny DeCou, LCSW, OSW-C, Debbi Newton, LCSW, OSW-C, CGP, CCTP, and Maygen Hansard, LMSW. At The University of Texas, we are honored to be collaborating with Jamie C. Barner, PhD, faculty principal investigator, Jennifer Hoang, PharmD student, student principal investigator, and Emma Gugala, PharmD, MS, graduate research assistant.

As a postgraduate at The University of Texas at Austin, College of Pharmacy, Health Outcomes Division, Jenny was looking into the pain patients experience while fighting cancer for her research project. She asked, if patients felt more loved, would it impact their physical or mental symptoms? I believe her question was informed by what she learned from The 5 Love Languages™. Dr. Barner then reached out to us to discuss the possibility of collaborating, and it aligned well with our focus on improving quality of life and relationship satisfaction. In fact, Debbi, Maygen, Penny, and I wrote the curriculum and are the facilitators for the support group for patients with cancer and their partners, which is the core tenant to the study.

3) How might family and friends of a cancer patient use The 5 Love Languages™ to express their support and love?

The 5 Love Languages™ has been around for decades. The book’s longevity speaks volumes to the value of its content and answers the questions many of us are trying to figure out in love and relationships.

How do I make sure the person in my life feels loved, seen, or cared for? We all feel love, but not all in the same way. While there are many ways that partners can show love, it may be important to first understand how their significant others would like to receive that love. The book discusses the certain “love languages” that speak to us based on our needs and desires. I’m sure we have all been in a situation where someone gave us flowers, when we may have preferred a hug or listening ear. Knowing your loved one’s dominant love language can help ensure your acts of love are received as you intended and fill that person’s tank with the right kind of love fuel – which can make all the difference. However, it is still important to know how to speak in all of the love languages. Humans are complex beings, and our needs can change.

4) Are there any common communication issues you regularly see between cancer patients and their loved ones?

Most commonly, there are miscommunications on how to provide support – what it looks, what it feels like, what the needs are, and how to address them. In intimate relationships, assumptions happen often, like “I know my partner needs this” or “they should just know what I need.” These miscommunicated expectations lead to patients or loved ones feeling unseen or unheard. This can be addressed by creating a space for connection and communication. Partners must learn to be vulnerable enough to ask for help and express their needs and desires. Emotional safety in a relationship must be cultivated and nurtured.

This research study is taking place at Texas Oncology locations statewide, learn more here.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.