Mother-Child Relationship as Perceived by Breast Cancer Women


Cancer can threat the stability of a mother’s parental role, undermining her ability to take care of her children and keep the family together. We conducted face-to-face interviews to explore the experiences of mothers with breast cancer. Some mothers tend to handle their disease as if it were a temporary event. This strategy often implies a detachment from their children, in an attempt to protect them. Other strategies are instead based on the awareness that, from that moment on, the life of a mother, and that of her family, will have to go through important changes in the short and long run. The behaviors examined, adopted to safeguard children’s wellbeing, can create or enhance dysfunctional and paradoxical communication strategies. The hospital staff can practically use the results of this study to help mothers successfully handle their family relationships.

Share and Cite:

Mazzotti, E. , Serranò, F. , Sebastiani, C. & Marchetti, P. (2012). Mother-Child Relationship as Perceived by Breast Cancer Women. Psychology, 3, 1027-1034. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312154.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Adams, E., & Dell, P. (2008). Being a good mother: a discourse analy sis of women’s experiences of breast cancer and motherhood. Psy chology of Women Section Review, 10, 3-12.
[2] Barnes, J., Kroll, L., Bruke, O., Lee, J., Jones, A., & Stein, A. (2000). Qualitative interview study of communication between parents and children about maternal breast cancer. British Medical Journal, 321, 479-482. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7259.479
[3] Billhult, A., & Segesten, K. (2003). Strength of motherhood: Nonre current breast cancer as experienced by mothers with dependent children. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 17, 122-128. doi:10.1046/j.1471-6712.2003.00219.x
[4] Clemmens, D. A. (2009). The significance of motherhood for adoles cents whose mothers have breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 36, 571-577. doi:10.1188/09.ONF.571-577
[5] Compas, B. E., Worsham, N. L., Epping-Jordan, J. E., Grant, K. E., Mireault, G., Howell, D. C., et al. (1994). When mom or dad has cancer: markers of psychological distress in cancer patients, spouses, and children. Health Psychology, 13, 507-515. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.13.6.507
[6] Compas, B. E., Worsham, N. L., Ey, S., & Howell, D. C. (1996). When mom or dad has cancer: II. Coping, cognitive appraisals, and psychological distress in children of cancer patients. Health Psychology, 15, 167-175. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.15.3.167
[7] Davis Kirsch, S. E., Brandt, P. A., & Lewis, F. M. (2003). Making the most of the moment: when a child’s mother has breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 26, 47-54. doi:10.1097/00002820-200302000-00007
[8] Edwards, B., & Clarke, V. (2004). The psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis on families: The influence of family functioning and patients’ illness characteristics on depression and anxiety. Psycho Oncology, 13, 562-576. doi:10.1002/pon.773
[9] Edwards, L., Watson, M., St. James-Roberts, I., Ashley, S., Tilney, C., Brougham, B., et al. (2008). Adolescent’s stress responses and psychological functioning when a parent has early breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 17, 1039-1047. doi:10.1002/pon.1323
[10] Elmberger, E., Bolund, C., & Lützen, K. (2000). Transforming the exhausting to energizing process of being a good parent in the face of cancer. Health Care for Women International, 21, 485-499. doi:10.1080/07399330050130287
[11] Elmberger, E., Bolund, C., & Lützen, K. (2002). Men with cancer. Changes in attempts to master the self-image as a man and as a parent. Cancer Nursing, 25, 477-485. doi:10.1097/00002820-200212000-00013
[12] Elmberger, E., Bolund, C., & Lützen, K. (2005). Experience of dealing with moral responsibility as a mother with cancer. Nursing Ethics, 12, 253-262. doi:10.1191/0969733005ne787oa
[13] Fitch, M. I., Bunston, T., & Elliot, M. (1999). When mom’s sick: Changes in a mother’s role and in the family after her diagnosis of cancer. Cancer Nursing, 22, 58-63. doi:10.1097/00002820-199902000-00011
[14] Forrest, G., Plumb, C., Ziebland, S., & Stein, A. (2006). Breast cancer in the family—children’s perceptions of their mother’s cancer and it’s initial treatment: qualitative study. British Medical Journal, 332, 998-1003. doi:10.1136/bmj.38793.567801.AE
[15] Grant, K. E., & Compas, B. E. (1995). Stress and anxious-depressed symptoms among adolescents: searching for mechanisms of risk. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 63, 1015-1021. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.63.6.1015
[16] Helseth, S., & Ulfs?t, N. (2003). Having a parent with cancer; coping and quality of life of children during a period of serious illness in the family. Cancer Nursing, 26, 337-344. doi:10.1097/00002820-200310000-00003
[17] Helseth, S., & Ulfs?t, N. (2005). Parenting experiences during cancer. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 52, 38-46. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2005.03562.x
[18] Huizinga, G. A., van der Graaf, W. T., Visser, A., Dijkstra, J. S., & Hoekstra-Weebers, J. E. (2003). Psychosocial consequences for children of a parent with cancer: a pilot study. Cancer Nursing, 26, 195-202. doi:10.1097/00002820-200306000-00004
[19] Huizinga, G. A., Visser, A., vander Graaf, W. T., Hoekstra, H. J., Gazendam-Donofrio, S. M., & Hoekstra-Weebers, J. E. (2010). Stress response symptoms in adolescents during the first year after a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Supportive Care in Cancer, 18, 1421-1428. doi:10.1007/s00520-009-0764-6
[20] Huizinga, G. A., Visser, A., van der Graaf, W. T., Hoekstra, H. J., & Hoekstra-Weebers, J. E. (2005). The quality of communication be tween parents and adolescent children in the case of parental cancer. Annals of Oncology, 16, 1956-1961. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdi395
[21] Hymovich, D. P. (1993). Child-rearing concerns of parents with cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 20, 1355-1360.
[22] Hymovich, D. P. (1995). The meaning of cancer to children. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, 11, 51-58. doi:10.1016/S0749-2081(95)80043-3
[23] Kaiser, K. (2008). The meaning of the survivor identity for women with breast cancer. Social Science & Medicine, 67, 79-87. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.03.036
[24] Kennedy, V. L., & Lloyd-Williams, M. (2009a). How children cope when a parent has advanced cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 18, 886-892. doi:10.1002/pon.1455
[25] Kennedy, V. L., & Lloyd-Williams, M. (2009b). M. Information and communication when a parent has advanced cancer. Journal of Affective Disorders, 114, 149-155. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2008.06.022
[26] Kroll, L., Barnes, J., Jones, A. L., & Stein, A. (1998). Cancer in parents: Telling children. British Medical Journal, 316, 880. doi:10.1136/bmj.316.7135.880
[27] Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishings, Inc.
[28] Labov, W. (2010). Narratives of personal experience. In P. Hogan (Ed.), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[29] Lewis, F. M., & Hammond, M. A. (1996). The father’s, mother’s, and adolescent’s functioning with breast cancer. Family Relations, 45, 456-465. doi:10.2307/585176
[30] Lewis, F. M., Zahlis, E. H., Shands, M. E., Sinsheimer, J. A., & Hammond, M. A. (1996). The functioning of single women with breast cancer and their school-aged children. Cancer Practice, 4, 15-24.
[31] Nelson, E., & While, D. (2002). Children’s adjustment during the first year of a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 20, 15-36. doi:10.1300/J077v20n01_02
[32] ?hlén, J., & Holm, A. K. (2006). Transforming desolation into consolation: Being a mother with life-threatening breast cancer. Health Care for Women International, 27, 18-44. doi:10.1080/07399330500377226
[33] Osborn, T. (2007). The psychosocial impact of parental cancer on children and adolescents: A systematic review. Psycho-Oncology, 16, 101-126. doi:10.1002/pon.1113
[34] Patenaude, A. F. (2000). A different normal: reactions of children and adolescents to the diagnosis of cancer in a parent. In L. Baider, C. L. Cooper, & A. K. De-Nour (Eds.), Cancer and the Family (2nd ed., pp. 239-253). Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
[35] Polkinghorne, D. E. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. State University of Albany: New York Press.
[36] Riessman, C. K. (1990). Strategic uses of narrative in the presentation of self and illness: A research note. Social Science and Medicine, 30, 1195-200. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(90)90259-U
[37] Riessman, C. K. (1993). Narrative analysis. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publishings, Inc.
[38] Riessman, C. K. (2002). Analysis of personal narratives. In J. D. Gubrium, & J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 695-710). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishings, Inc.
[39] Rosenfeld, A., Caplan, G., Yaroslavsky, A., Jacobowitz, J., Yuval, Y., & LeBow, H. (1983). Adaptation of children of parents suffering from cancer: A preliminary study of a new field for primary prevention research. Journal of Primary Prevention, 3, 244-250. doi:10.1007/BF01325407
[40] Rosenheim, E., & Reicher, R. (1985). Informing children about a parent’s terminal illness. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 26, 995-998. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1985.tb00613.x
[41] Sadler-Gerhardt, C. J., Reynolds, C. A., Britton, P. J., & Kruse, S. D. (2010). Women breast cancer survivors: Stories of change and meaning. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32, 265-282.
[42] Schmitt, F., Piha, J., Helenius, H., Baldus, C., Kienbacher, C., Steck, B., et al. (2008). Multinational study of cancer patients and their children: Factors associated with family functioning. Journal of Clinical On cology, 26, 5877-5883. doi:10.1200/JCO.2007.12.8132
[43] Semple, C. J., & McCance, T. (2010). Parents experience of cancer who have young children: A literature review. Cancer Nursing, 33, 110-118. doi:10.1097/NCC.0b013e3181c024bb
[44] Shands, M. E., Lewis, F. M., & Zahlis, E. H. (2000). Mother and child interactions about the mother’s breast cancer: An interview study. Oncology Nursing Forum, 27, 77-85.
[45] Silverman, D. (2010). Doing Qualitative Research: a practical hand book (3rd ed.) London: SAGE Publishings, Inc.
[46] Stiffler, D., Barada, B., Hosei, B., & Haase, J. (2008). When mom has breast cancer: Adolescent daughters’ experiences of being parented. Oncology Nursing Forum, 35, 933-940. doi:10.1188/08.ONF.933-940
[47] Vannatta, K., Grollman, J. A., Noll, R. B., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2008). Impact of maternal breast cancer on the peer interactions of children at school. Psycho-Oncology, 17, 252-259. doi:10.1002/pon.1232
[48] Vannatta, K., Ramsey, R. R., Noll, R. B., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2010). Associations of child adjustment with parent and family functioning: comparison of families of women with and without breast cancer. Journal of Development and Behavioral Pediatries, 31, 9-16. doi:10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181c82a44
[49] Visser, A., Huizinga, G. A., Hoekstra, H. J., van der Graaf, W. T., Gazendam-Donofrio, S. M., & Hoekstra-Weebers, J. E. (2007). Emotional and behavioral problems in children of parents recently diagnosed with cancer: a longitudinal study. Acta Oncologica, 46, 67-76. doi:10.1080/02841860600949560
[50] Visser, A., Huizinga, G. A., Hoekstra, H. J., van der Graaf, W. T., Klip, E. C., Pras, E., et al. (2005). Emotional and behavioural functioning of children of a parent diagnosed with cancer: A cross-informant perspective. Psycho-Oncology, 14, 746-758. doi:10.1002/pon.902
[51] Visser, A., Huizinga, G. A., vander Graaf, W. T., Hoekstra, H. J., & Hoekstra-Weebers, J. E. (2004). The impact of parental cancer on children and the family: A review of the literature. Cancer Treatment Reviews, 30, 683-694. doi:10.1016/j.ctrv.2004.06.001
[52] Walsh, S. R., Manuel, J. C., & Avis, N. E. (2005). The impact of breast cancer on younger women’s relationships with their partner and children. Families, Systems and Health, 23, 80-93. doi:10.1037/1091-7527.23.1.80
[53] Watson, M., St. James-Roberts, I., Ashley, S., Tilney, C., Brougham, B., Edwards, L., et al. (2006). Factors associated with emotional and behavioural problems among school age children of breast cancer patients. British Journal of Cancer, 94, 43-50. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6602887
[54] Williams, G. (1984). The genesis of chronic illness: narrative reconstruction. Sociology of Health & Illness, 6, 175-200. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.ep10778250

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.