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Childhood cancer: Impact on parents’ marital dynamics

Journal title
European journal of oncology nursing : the official journal of European Oncology Nursing Society
Publication year
Silva-Rodrigues, F. M.; Pan, R.; Pacciulio Sposito, A. M.; de Andrade Alvarenga, W.; Nascimento, L. C.

PURPOSE: To explore and analyze how marital relationships are affected by the crisis generated by the diagnosis and intensive regimens required in the treatment of children with cancer. METHOD: A descriptive study with a qualitative data analysis was conducted. In-depth individual interviews were carried out with 18 married biological parents of children with cancer. Data was analyzed using an inductive content analysis. RESULTS: The following themes represented the couples’ experiences: (1) Abrupt changes after the child’s diagnosis resulting in marital strain and need to focus on the present; (2) United but distant; (3) Exchanging roles; (4) Being parents all the time; (5) Focusing on the positive side of the experience; (6) Rescuing the marital relationship. The marital relationship of parents with a child/adolescent who has cancer may undergo either positive or negative changes, with intimacy and sexuality being negatively affected by the disease. Although the relationship may be more fragile after the illness, increased mutual commitment was observed in some couples. CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate that health professionals should include parents as an important focus of their care. The establishment of solid bonds to enhance couples’ communication is recommended as a way to provide anticipatory guidance to address the identified changes in marital relationships. The opportunities for dialog and partnership help couples to target their needs and recognize their strengths in order to mitigate the impact of a child’s illness.

Research abstracts