Various fears in children with cancer have previously been identified as a result of studying e.g. symptom experiences, distress and uncertainty within this population. Studies of the meaning the children give to their fear, as well as the handling of their fear seem to be sparse, however. Also, fear has not been an exclusive focus in previous studies. Professionals in clinical practice have pointed to the need for such research, which has prompted the present research work. The overall aim of this thesis was therefore twofold; firstly, the aim was to elucidate fear in children and adolescents with cancer in order to gain an understanding from the perspective of adolescents and parents. Secondly, it was to elucidate parents’ and professionals’ handling of the fear. This in order to gain a deeper understanding of what performances and manners the children and adolescents can face when being fearful. A qualitative descriptive design was adopted in the five included studies. The methods used in the data analysis were phenomenological hermeneutical method (studies I–III) and qualitative content analysis (studies IV–V).
In study I six adolescent girls, aged 14–16 years, with experiences of various cancer diagnoses, but now declared fit, were interviewed. The results reveal that they experience their fear as embodied, which in the comprehensive understanding of the results was interpreted as a threat to their personal self, their whole existence. Their fear was seen as a holistic intertwined experience, including fear related to the physical body and to the social self. Also, existential fear was described. Their described experience was interpreted as suffering.
Studies II and III share the same data. Fifteen parents of children at various ages with various cancer diagnoses were interviewed in focus groups about their experience of their child’s fear. In study II the result reveals how the parents experienced and understood their child’s fear. The fear was described as a multidimensional phenomenon, which was not always easy to identify. It was contrasted to feelings of unease and to absence of fear. In the comprehensive understanding the fear was interpreted as a suffering, as that was regarded to be what was the common meaning in the narratives. The suffering was interpreted as an ethical demand to the parents to take action. In study III the parents described their actions, i.e. they described how they dealt with the fear. Their actions were described as acting in the best interests of the child, which included striving to make the child feel secure and experience wellbeing, up to a certain point. However, after this point the parents used their parental authority to maintain the child’s physical health rather than trying to prevent or relieve the child’s fear. In the comprehensive understanding the parents’ handling of their child’s fear was interpreted as revealing mercy and as being synonymous with meeting the ethical demand put on them.
In study IV ten experienced nurses and physicians were individually interviewed about how they handled fear in children with cancer. The result reveals that the existential issues were dealt with within the relationship with the child, on a sliding scale between closeness and distance, and that the fear related to medical procedures occurred on a continuum between support and lack of support. The various actions involved, and the manner in which these actions were performed, was described.
In the observational study (study V) eleven parents and their children as well as eleven health professionals participated. They were observed at children’s routine visits at the outpatient clinic. The aim was to study the interactions related to fear. The result reveals that when children were fearful they expressed this both verbally and non-verbally. The parents’ and professionals’ actions and interactions in these situations were found to be characterized by recognition of the fear or lack of attention to the fear.
The findings can contribute to a broadened knowledge on fear in children and adolescents with cancer. Awareness and understanding of the meaning adolescents give to their fear, and furthermore, of the parents’ experience and understanding of their child’s fear can provide tools for interacting with these groups. The findings on how fear is dealt with by the ones children have claimed as important sources for support, can give insights into what the child may face when being fearful. These insights can form the basis for individual, as well as collegial, reflections on what is done when children face fear, how fear is handled on an everyday basis and why it is handled in this way. Such reflections could lead to an ethical awareness of handling fear in children with cancer.