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Many studies have found that people with cancer value family support. Feminist work suggests that women carry most responsibility for practical and emotional support in families, but few qualitative cancer studies explicitly incorporate a gender perspective. We undertook secondary analysis of in-depth interviews with 33 married or cohabiting respondents with colorectal cancer in the UK to compare men and women's accounts of 'spousal' support. Both men and women described the vital role that their partners played in providing emotional and practical support. Mutual support and reciprocity were also key features of narratives; both men and women reported controlling their emotions to protect spouses and preserve 'normal' household routines. Traditional gender roles had some influence; some women organised 'cover' for domestic work and childcare when they were ill, while some men focused on making sure that their families were financially secure and partners were 'protected' from the effects of their stomas. Our findings illustrate the complexity of gendered constructions and performances of 'care' and contribute to debates about gender and emotional labour. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Social Science and Medicine

Publication Date





1169 - 1175