Training Urged For Mothers Of Children With Cancer

August 08, 1997

Health researchers are urging special training in problem-solving skills for mothers who are raising children with cancer, to help resolve emotional and behavioral problems in their healthy children.

Mothers of children with cancer perceive themselves as more vulnerable to emotional and physical distress than other women in the general population, according to Olle Jane Z. Sahler, M.D., of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, and colleagues from the Sibling Adaptation to Childhood Cancer Collaborative Study, who have been studying the effects of cancer on siblings.

Results of their most recent study are published in the August issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

"Solving problems associated with dealing with hospital personnel, therapy protocols, pain management, disfigurement, and the perceived threat of death that is embodied in the word "cancer," is not a skill which will have been learned by most parents during their previous life experiences," the authors write. "Problem-solving skill training to enhance a mother's own coping might have a beneficial spillover effect on both her ill and her healthy child's coping."

They studied 170 mothers and healthy siblings of children with cancer from Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Rochester, and Salt Lake City, a representative cross-section of the U.S. population.

When the mothers were asked about themselves and their healthy children, they reported that their general well-being and physical health were not as high as reported by mothers who did not have children with cancer.

"There is no reason to believe that mothers of children with cancer differed in any way from the general population before the diagnosis," the authors write. "The magnitude and relative rarity of dealing with childhood cancer, however, often challenges and even exceeds the kinds of support on which mothers typically rely."

All of the mothers tended to seek support from friends and family members, but didn't consider such support helpful when the diagnosis of cancer was associated with increased emotional or behavioral problems in healthy siblings. For them, special training in problem-solving skills may be most helpful, the researchers say.

The Journal is published bi-monthly by the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Dr. Olle Jane Z. Sahler may be contacted at (716) 273-4014.

Contact: Paul H. Dworkin, MD, editor
(860) 714-5020
Release posted by: Center for the Advancement of Health (URL:

Contact: Richard Hébert
(202) 387-2829

Center for Advancing Health

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