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Parents of Children with Cancer are Suffering — Talking About It May Help

Caring for a child with cancer would be difficult for any parent, as they’re tasked with taking on a key role in the child’s life. But a new study has found that parents of kids with cancer are facing their own internal battles too.

A new study, “Emotional adjustment among parents of adolescents and young adults with cancer,” published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, looked at how parents are affected by caring for children with cancer.

Aliza Panjwani, a psychology student at The Graduate Center, CUNY, worked alongside Professor Tracey Revenson (The Graduate Center, Hunter College) and other researchers to determine how parents of adolescents and young adults with cancer (AYAs) were coping psychologically.

“The diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing event, not only for the individuals diagnosed, but also for their families,” the authors wrote.  “Family members’ distress levels are often comparable to the patients’, especially when the caregiver is the parent.”

The study looked at an online cross-sectional survey study of 66 parents. All were white and heterosexual, and a majority were middle-aged mothers. The study found that parents of AYAs who did not have a strong social circle to speak about their experiences tended to suffer “greater psychological distress.”

“AYAs have worries about the future, they may also experience a sense of isolation or have difficulty with their concerns being heard or understood,” the study said.

Nearly a third of the parents reported “moderate to severe depressive symptoms.” This, the study shows, was strongly linked to limited social outlets. Social context affects how people adjust to illness. Parents of children with cancer as a whole are so understudied that mental health services aren’t typically tailored to their needs.

“Understanding the psychosocial factors that contribute to distress among parents of AYAs will help develop psychological interventions that can improve quality of life for the parents, their children, and the family as a whole,” according to the study.