Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Madelyn Geldenhuys

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Cathy Bettman


The incidence of cancer in Australia for people in the parenting age range is significant, and as the fertility rate of women aged 35 years and over continues to rise, many cancer patients may be parenting minor-aged children. The aim of this research was therefore to explore the lived experience of parents diagnosed with cancer whilst parenting minor-aged children, and to gain knowledge and understanding as to how parents and their families respond to a parent’s cancer illness. Utilising a qualitative research design, eight participants, receiving treatment for cancer in a private hospital cancer treatment service, and parenting at least one child under the age of 18 years, were recruited for semi-structured interviews to gain an understanding of their experiences. The data was subjected to a thematic analysis and the findings of the study revealed three major themes: Hearing the words ‘you have cancer’, bringing cancer home to the family, and playing the hand you are dealt. For the parents in this study, the need to protect children motivated how they and their families communicated about the parent’s illness, and what strategies they used to maintain a stable family environment. The findings of the study raise questions around the importance of emotional expression in families dealing with a parent’s cancer diagnosis, and how this influences individual and family functioning, as well as the parent’s capacity to cope with the demands of the illness. New ideas around the concept of family-focused medical care for parents with cancer, and the working relationship between parents with cancer and the health care professionals involved in their cancer treatment, are also discussed. Suggestions for future directions in research into these aspects of the study findings are offered.

Keywords: parental cancer, children, family coping, health professionals, qualitative

Included in

Diseases Commons