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Women's Health Education Program Scholars' Projects

Exploring the Mental and Emotional Burdens of Cancer Diagnosis Faced by Parents with Dependent Children

WHEP scholar Nikita Dahake

WHEP Scholar Nikita Dahake
Drexel University College of Medicine, Class of 2022

One in five cancer patients who are undergoing active treatment are parents of children who are under the age of 18. Families are affected greatly when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, and this is a major unpredicted stressor for parents. Understanding how a family is affected depending on their role in their family as well as the severity of their disease is extremely important so health care professionals can help mitigate some of the stressors experienced by these patients.

Every parent discussed how their diagnosis made them fearful of the future. They were concerned regarding how they could tell their children and wondering how they would be able to progress following their cancer diagnosis. Mothers tended to be more worried about how the family would function if they were not around to help the children with their day-to-day life. Fathers seemed to have more difficulty accepting the fact that they would not be able to provide for their family how they had originally though they would be able to. Regardless of severity of disease, parents were found to opt for more intense treatments as they wanted every last minute that they could feasibly have with their family.

Each parent diagnosed always had the wellbeing of their family on the forefront of their mind. The main themes included understanding how their disease would affect their family, how they would tell their children, and how they could continue being the best parent they could. Significant differences were found between how fathers and mothers reacted to their cancer diagnoses and their main concerns. Regardless of their perceived role, each parent wanted to do everything to stay with their children, so regardless of the severity of their disease, all parents chose intensive treatments that could prolong their life. While knowledge about their disease process is generally offered to patients, parenting issues should also be discussed as parenting stress takes a large psychological toll on these patients, who are parents first.

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