When parents have cancer, the children suffer

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Parents should educate children about cancer diagnosis


With the diagnosis of cancer comes not only the fear of one's own death, but also the question of coping with everyday life. Caring for the children is often an additional immense burden for affected parents. "How should I tell my child", doctors are often asked by mothers and fathers. But as a rule, these cannot provide psychosocial care. The "Soul Comforter" project at Magdeburg University Hospital successfully tackles this problem.

Children react differently than adults to a parent's cancer diagnosis
According to current information from the Statisches Landesamt Sachsen-Anhalt, more than 52,600 people in the federal state alone (approximately 29,800 men and 22,800 women) received cancer therapy in a hospital in 2010. 7,839 citizens (27 percent of all deaths) died the following year from malignant new growths. In 2010, there were 248 more cancer cases in Saxony-Anhalt than in 2009.

After cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumors are the second most common cause of death. Parents find the diagnosis particularly bad because, in addition to fear for their own lives, they are tormented by the question of how they should tell their children about it. "There is a great deal of uncertainty in almost all affected families," reports Hans-Henning Flechtner from the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Magdeburg. In order to support families in this difficult situation, the project "Soul Comforter" was launched. Two psychological staff at the university clinic take care of the affected parents and their children and focus on where adults reach their limits.

"How do I react when my three-year-old child asks why mom's hair falls out?" The psychiatry professor cited as an example of the problem of dealing with cancer every day. "Or my child completely closed off in adolescence and gave the impression that he didn't care about the situation." Such reactions and school problems are normal in such a situation, explains Flechtner. Adolescents would find the disease and its effects very threatening and therefore often ward off the whole topic. As a rule, they would be more open to individual discussions. On the other hand, parents would often try to keep everything related to the disease away from the children. However, everything has to be discussed in order to process the situation.

Doctors cannot provide psychosocial care to families "The doctor treating them cannot provide care to families," explains Flechtner. That is why projects such as "comforter" are actually necessary at all oncological centers. The expert reports that those affected from other federal states would also seek help at the Magdeburg University Hospital for this special project.

An important topic in the office hours is the possible or imminent death of the parent. Families often have to be told that they can allow their grief. In children, this is often manifested by sleep disorders and reduced performance. "You need counseling, but mostly no therapy," explains Flechtner.

“Projects such as soul comforters offer affected families support in an area that is not intended for other cancer therapy. Some oncological centers offer psychosocial care options for those affected and their relatives, but child-friendly care is usually lacking, ”explains Gritli Betram, social worker from Hanover.

The "Soul Comforter" project was launched as part of a research project by five universities for three years. During consultation hours, the need for advice and care for children of parents with cancer is to be determined. The effectiveness of the office hours should also be checked. The families who take part in the project are mediated by various cooperation institutions. In addition to oncological centers, these include self-help groups, rehabilitation clinics and the Saxony-Anhalt Cancer Society. Although the research project expires in the summer, "comforter" is to be continued. "We will definitely continue the consultation hour," emphasizes Flechtner. (ag)

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