Rapid Fire Session 2014 World Cancer Congress

Structure versus flexibility: How should an Indigenous cancer support group operate? (#425)

Beatriz Cuesta-Briand , Shaouli Shahid 1 , Dawn Bessarab 2 , Sandra Thompson 1
  1. Western Australian Centre for Rural Health, The University of Western Australia, Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia
  2. Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia


Cancer support groups provide emotional and practical support, and foster a sense of community and belonging. Despite evidence on their positive effects on people affected by cancer, there is scarce evidence on Indigenous-specific cancer peer-support programs in Australia.


Using qualitative data, this paper explores different understandings of how a cancer support group should operate and the impact of unresolved tensions following the establishment of an Indigenous women cancer peer-support group in a regional town in Western Australia.


Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 24 participants purposively selected among Aboriginal and mainstream healthcare service providers, and group members and clients. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were subjected to inductive thematic analysis. NVivo was used to manage the data and assist in the data analysis. Rigour was enhanced through team member checking, coding validation and peer debriefing.


Flexibility and a resistance to formal structuring were at the core of how the group operated. It was acknowledged that the group partly owned its success to its fluid approach; however, most mainstream healthcare service providers believed that a more structured approach would be needed for the group to be sustainable. This was seen as acting in opposition to the flexible, organic approach considered necessary to adequately respond to Aboriginal women’s needs. At the core of these tensions were opposing perspectives on the constructs of ‘structure’ and ‘flexibility’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants.


Despite the group’s achievements, unresolved tensions between opposing perspectives on how a support group should operate negatively impacted on the working relationship between the group and mainstream service providers, and posed a threat to the group’s sustainability. Our results support the need to acknowledge and address different perspectives and world views in order to build strong, effective partnerships between service providers and Aboriginal communities.