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Parenting experiences during cancer


  • Sølvi Helseth PhD RN,

  • Nina Ulfsæt RN

Sølvi Helseth,
Faculty of Nursing,
Oslo University College,
Box 4,
St Olavs Plass,
Oslo 0130,


Aim.  This paper reports a study to increase our understanding of how cancer affects childcare through assessing the parenting experiences of cancer patients and their spouses with young children.

Background.  A parent's cancer brings insecurity into the life of a child. It affects their well-being and increases their needs for comfort and care. However, little research has been conducted to understand how a parent's illness affects parenting and the care of the child. The study was carried out in 2001–2002.

Methods.  An explorative design was chosen and data were collected through in-depth interviews with a convenience sample of 18 parents of 23 children (aged 0–18 years) in 10 families.

Findings.  Parents described living in a state of emergency. Cancer was consuming their energy, physically and emotionally. In spite of their difficulties, they were striving to be good parents. Positive aspects of illness reported were a shift of priorities and change of values that often brought family members closer together. The parents would face the challenges of illness by making the best of it, putting the needs of the children in focus and trying to maintain normal family life. The overall aim of parenting would be to protect the children and make the illness situation as secure and normal as possible for them.

Conclusion.  Cancer is a challenge and often necessitates changes in parenting roles, responsibilities and goals. In the future, nurses need to approach parents with young children more directly about these extra challenges, and offer them further assistance in dealing with them.