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Mother and Child Interactions About the Mother's Breast Cancer: An Interview Study

Mary Ellen Shands
Frances Marcus Lewis
Ellen Hooper Zahlis
ONF 2000, 27(1), 77-85 DOI: 10.1188/00.ONF.77-85

Purpose/Objectives: To describe mothers' reported methods of interacting with the mothers' school-age children about their breast cancer.

Design: Qualitative.

Setting/Sample: 19 mothers newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Mothers received treatment for their illness in the Pacific Northwest. Mothers had at least one child between 7 and 12 years old at the time of diagnosis.

Methods: Case-intensive, in-home, semistructured interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and inductively coded into four conceptual domains and 16 categories of behavioral strategies used by the mothers to interact with their children about the breast cancer.

Main Research Variables: Behavioral strategies used by mothers when interacting with the children about the breast cancer and when providing children with support.

Findings: Mothers used a number of methods to bring children into the mothers' breast cancer experience. The conceptual domains included talking about the breast cancer, explaining treatment and care, providing experiences, and doing things to help children cope.

Conclusions: The dominant pattern in the interview data was for mothers to assume a teacher/educator role with the children about the cancer, not an interactive, emotive-expressive parenting role. Most mothers used technical biomedical language; did not give evidence of systematically checking on the children's understanding of what they were told; did not elicit the children's concerns; and exposed the children to emotionally laden or potentially frightening images, words, or experiences.

Implications for Nursing Practice: Programs and materials need to be developed that help mothers work from a model of parenting that includes developmentally appropriate language, facilitates the children's expression of questions and feelings, links the mothers with the children's understanding of the illness, and assists the children to better manage what is happening related to the breast cancer.

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