Childhood cancer has a profound impact on parents and family relationships. After their child’s diagnosis, parents commonly require support from their extended family members including their own parents and siblings. Limited research has assessed how parents draw upon their extended families for support after diagnosis. Importantly, support–or lack of support–offered by extended family members may change family relationships. We aimed to assess how parents, after their child’s diagnosis: perceive the support they received from their extended family; and describe changes to relationships with extended family members.
We interviewed 35 parents of childhood cancer survivors (n = 32 female, 91.4%). On average, children had successfully completed their cancer treatment 1.52 years (SD= 1.23 years) prior to their parents’ participation in our study (range = 0.17–6.33 years).
Thematic analysis of the data revealed five themes: extended family members as sources of support; hurt, anger and resentment; empathy for extended family members; insulating the nuclear family; and relationships after treatment. Extended family members can provide valuable support to parents of a child with cancer. At the same time, families can be a source of anger and frustration for parents, potentially damaging relationships into the future.
Parents and their extended family members may have different ideas or expectations regarding the kind of support which is helpful during a child’s cancer treatment. Interventions and resources which educate extended family members may assist in bridging the gap between the support parents need, and what they receive, when their child is diagnosed with cancer.