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Balancing Illness and Parental Demands: 
Coping With Cancer While Raising Minor Children

Corinne Rashi
Trinity Wittman
Argerie Tsimicalis

Carmen G. Loiselle
ONF 2015, 42(4), 337-344 DOI: 10.1188/15.ONF.337-344

Purpose/Objectives: To explore the cancer experience of parents and their perceptions of supportive strategies to assist them with illness- and family-related challenges.


Design: Qualitative, descriptive design.


Setting: A large McGill University–affiliated hospital cancer care center in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Participants: Five mothers and seven fathers aged 33–67 years with a first cancer diagnosis who received treatment at the cancer clinic within the previous year. Participants had to have at least one minor child living with them.


Methodologic Approach: Semistructured, audio-recorded interviews.


Findings: Three main categories emerged: (a) parental self- activated strategies, including maintaining child routines, selective disclosure, strength and positivity, adapting to illness-related physical changes, and connecting with others who are similar; (b) tangible social networks that meet transportation, child care, meal care, and psychoemotional support needs; and (c) suggestions to enhance person- and family-centered care, including information to benefit the children, coordination of appointments, optimizing timing for support services, and the need for more tangible support. 


Conclusions: Coping with cancer while raising children requires delicate balancing of illness and parenting demands. Tangible support systems must include access to childcare services, home healthcare services, and transportation solutions.


Interpretation: Support for parenting needs is a key component of comprehensive cancer care. Oncology nurses should stay informed of all hospital, clinic, and community resources to facilitate access for parents. Unmet support needs indicate that improvements need to be made in access to medical appointments around family schedules, expanded resources for children, and reduction of wait times. 


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