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Parents' adjustment to cancer in children

PhD ceremony:drs. B.J. Wijnberg-Williams
When:November 27, 2017
Supervisor:prof. dr. H.B.M. (Harry) van de Wiel
Co-supervisor:Prof. J.E.H.M. Hoekstra-Weebers
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Medical Sciences / UMCG

The subject of this dissertation is understanding the way parents deal with cancer in their children. By examining the course of psychological distress over time and factors that contribute to parents’ adjustment we hope to better understand this process and gain more insight into parents’ ability to adjust. The study spans a time period of five years and has four measurement points (diagnosis and up to five years later). Parents filled in questionnaires on their general distress, anxiety, psychological complaints, coping, marital quality and communication between partners. Socio-demographic and illness-related information were also provided

Findings suggest that even though most parents adjust well, at least one third of the parents show evidence of clinical distress five years after their child has been diagnosed with cancer, which is higher than the percentage found in the general population (15%). Although none of the factors we examined can explain parents’ adjustment sufficiently, some of these do show a small effect. These factors are: use of different coping styles; gender and health status of the children; social support; and marital satisfaction including communication styles.

We speculate that other factors such as resilience or parents’ personality structure could also be relevant to understanding parental adjustment. Because a significant number of parents are distressed even after five years from diagnosis, we suggest that regular screening could help identify these persons at an earlier date and possibly prevent long term maladjustment.