• children;
  • cognitive mapping;
  • head and neck cancer;
  • nursing;
  • parents

semple c.j. & mccance t. (2010) Experience of parents with head and neck cancer who are caring for young children. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(6), 1280–1290.


Title. Experience of parents with head and neck cancer who are caring for young children.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study exploring the experience and support needs of parents with head and neck cancer, who are also caring for their young children.

Background.  The incidence of head and neck cancer is steadily rising in the younger age groups (under 50 years). As a direct consequence, more parents of young children are being diagnosed with this cancer.

Methods.  Using a qualitative descriptive design, 12 patients with young children under the age of 16 were interviewed during 2008. The data were analysed using cognitive mapping.

Findings.  At diagnosis, parents experienced the fear of missing milestones in the life of their children and fear of telling the children about their diagnosis. During treatment, parents’ inevitable stays in hospital led to separation from the children and the need to prepare their children for the first hospital visit. Parents experienced many debilitating effects of treatment, which had an impact on family activities, especially those that involved eating. There was often changing roles within the family. After treatment, the experience of living with cancer for parents resulted in the desire to get back to day-to-day life. Parents had an increased appreciation of life but were also living with uncertainties. The most important support networks for parents were their spouse, family and friends.

Conclusion.  Oncology nurses are in an excellent position to offer support and guidance to parents with cancer who have children, and should encourage them to explore with the family the best way of managing role change during treatment.