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Helping parents prepare for their child's end of life: A retrospective survey of cancer-bereaved parents

Journal title
Pediatric blood & cancer
Publication year
Wiener, L.; Tager, J.; Mack, J.; Battles, H.; Bedoya, S. Z.; Gerhardt, C. A.

BACKGROUND: Most parents vividly recall the weeks, days, and moments preceding their child's death for years to come. Dissatisfaction with communication about their child's condition and lack of guidance can contribute to stress prior to a child's death. Based on findings from a study assessing the degree of preparation bereaved parents received and our collective clinical experience, the authors provide suggestions on end-of-life communication and guidance for parents. METHODS: Caregivers of a child who died from cancer were invited to complete a 46-item survey through a closed social media (Facebook) group ("Parents who lost children to cancer"). In four months' time, 131 bereaved caregivers completed the survey. Results were analyzed using descriptive statistics, chi-square analyses, and a thematic content analysis framework. The mean age of the child at the time of death was 12. RESULTS: Approximately 40% of the parents in this study felt unprepared for both the medical problems their child faced and how to respond to their child's emotional needs; fewer than 10% felt very prepared for either. Parents were more likely to feel unprepared when perceived suffering was high, highlighting the critical importance of communication and support from the healthcare team as an adjunct to optimal symptom control. CONCLUSIONS: Through quantitative and open-ended responses, this study identified specific medical and emotional issues about which parents wanted greater preparation. Future research to evaluate guidance strategies to reduce parental suffering prior to the child's death is needed.

Research abstracts