When Amy Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four years ago, she didn’t know how she was going to break the news to her two children, ages 5 ½ and 8. So she checked out a book.
“It was a cartoon book that was age-appropriate but very simplistic,” said the 43-year-old Seattle advertising executive. “It introduced them to the cancer – but didn’t carry us through the bumps ahead. I had a lot of surgery and treatment and my coping skills weren’t really there. And now I have an immense amount of guilt about it all. I’ll never know what this did to them.”
Grappling with a cancer diagnosis is hard enough, but how do you share that information with your school-age kids – and then go on to successfully parent them while navigating surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and more?
That very question is at the heart of a six-state randomized clinical trial that examined the efficacy of a new cancer parenting program designed by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. Called Enhancing Connections, the program is the culmination of 15 years of research into the little-studied field of parenting and cancer.
Designed for moms and dads facing any type of cancer, Enhancing Connections was tailored for families going through breast cancer then tested on 90 recently diagnosed moms and their 8- to 12-year-old children. These moms received five face-to-face counseling sessions and various informational materials while another group of 86 moms received a booklet and follow-up phone call, basic guidance comparable to what’s currently offered by cancer centers. After two months, the moms who received the Enhancing Connections tools reported feeling less depressed and their parenting skills improved while their children’s anxiety and depressed mood had significantly declined. A year later, the kids who received the program remained less depressed than the control group.