Aim Being given a diagnosis of cancer is a significant and highly distressing event for both children and their families. There has been a significant amount of research looking at parents’ experiences and communication preferences at the time of diagnosis but little research has been done to explore and understand children’s feelings. This qualitative study aims to understand from the child’s perspective what it feels like to be told you have cancer with the hope that increased understanding can lead to improved communication and support for children newly diagnosed with cancer.
Methods The study was conducted using qualitative methodology. Children from a UK principle oncology centre were purposefully selected to participate. The children were enrolled within 4 weeks of being diagnosed with cancer and took part in semi-structured interviews conducted using the draw and write technique. The interviews aimed to explore children’s experiences around the time of diagnosis. The results were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results Six children, aged 8 – 12 years, with a new diagnosis of cancer were interviewed. Five super-ordinate themes were identified: 1) Initially I felt shocked and scared. 2) Chemo is an awful thing. 3) Please talk to me: the more I know the better I feel. 4) I will accept treatment and quickly get used to it because I know I will get better. 5) My family are vital.
Children say that initially they feel shocked and scared. They continue to feel scared until they understand exactly what will be done to them. Then despite experiencing chemotherapy as an awful event, with information and help from family, they can learn relatively quickly to accept their diagnosis and treatment. However, this acceptance is in the unquestioning belief that the treatment will lead to cure.
Conclusions Children have unique needs at the time of being diagnosed with cancer. In order to minimise suffering clinicians must be prepared to talk to children directly. Children want to know, at the earliest opportunity, what will happen to them and that there is a potential for cure.
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