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7-11-year-old children, Coping, Experiences, Grounded theory, Maternal breast cancer



  1. Furlong, Eileen P. PhD, MSc, RN


Background: A diagnosis of parental cancer affects all members of the family unit, especially young school-age children. Few studies, however, have explored children's experiences at the time when their parents are actually receiving treatment. Understanding the children's experiences will provide additional insight into children's coping abilities.


Objective: The purpose of this study is to develop a grounded theory of children's day-to-day experiences as they live with their mother who has been recently diagnosed with, and is receiving treatment for, early-stage breast cancer.


Methods: Using classic grounded theory methodology, data were collected through 28 interviews with 7- to 11-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer during the previous 4 months.


Results: Protecting was the main concern of the children during their mothers' diagnosis and treatment phase. The children addressed this concern through 3 cyclical and iterative processes of shifting normality, shielding and transitioning.


Conclusions: The findings provide a mechanism for understanding how the perceived loss of the "well" mother raised concerns for the children and resulted in adaptations of roles and responsibilities and a period of biographical disruption. This understanding could serve as a catalyst for how we relate with children and engage with parents to enhance children's coping strategies during a maternal cancer diagnosis.


Implications for Practice: New insights provided by this theory can guide clinical practice and generate hypotheses to test interventions to support children and their parents to cope during the time of maternal cancer diagnosis.