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The Child’s Worries About the Mother’s Breast Cancer: Sources of Distress in School-Age Children

Ellen Hooper Zahlis
ONF 2001, 1019-1025 DOI:

Purpose/Objectives: To describe children's worries when their mothers are newly diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

Design: Descriptive, qualitative study.

Setting: Private family homes.

Sample: Case intensive interviews with 16 children who ranged in age from 11-18 years at the time that interviews were conducted and who had been 8-12 years of age when their mothers were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

Methods: Semistructured interviews with the children were audiorecorded, transcribed, and inductively coded into categories of distinct worries about their mothers' breast cancer.

Main Research Variables: Children's descriptions of their worries and confusion resulting from their mothers' breast cancer diagnoses.

Findings: The children voiced nine categories of worry during the interviews: worrying that the mother was going to die; feeling confused; worrying that something bad would happen; worrying about the family and others; worrying when the mother did not look good; worrying that their mothers would change; wondering if the family would have to cut back financially; worrying about talking to others; and wondering if they, the children, would get cancer.

Conclusions: Children of mothers with breast cancer experience multiple worries concerning their mothers, their families, and themselves. The data revealed that they attempted to make sense of their mothers' illness for themselves and imagined how it might affect their own lives in the future.

Implications for Nursing Practice: Programs and materials need to be developed that help parents address the multiple worries that children whose mothers have early-stage breast cancer experience.

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