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The Experiences of Fathers of Children with Cancer Recurrence

Naiara Barros Polita, Francine de Montigny, Chantal Verdon, Lucila Castanheira Nascimento

Research Framework: Childhood cancer relapse requires new meanings and new strategies for the family to cope with this phase. The way men deal with situations of childhood illness is influenced by social norms, beliefs, and cultural values. Therefore, medical anthropology and masculinities were chosen as theoretical frameworks of this study.

Objectives: This article examines the experiences of fathers of children with cancer relapse.

Methodology: Narrative research conducted with 13 Brazilian fathers. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, using a semi-structured script and then processed through inductive thematic analysis.

Results: A thematic narrative synthesis was elaborated: “Good days, bad days: oscillating between the resignation of death and the hope of healing”. The news of the relapse in conjunction with the child’s signs of clinical worsening brought the fathers closer to the limits of treatment and the finitude of life, although they also presented with hope for a cure. As a result, fathers wavered between building emotion-centred strategies and adopting life-engaging behaviours and strategies. In addition to maintaining hope, fathers mobilized the following resources: religion, spirituality, and emotional and instrumental support.

Conclusion: Culture, especially masculinities, influence and is influenced by fathers’ experiences throughout a child’s cancer relapse.

Contribution: A better understanding of the particularities of men’s experiences facilitates the development of father-specific interventions. Palliative care can benefit fathers by helping them become aware of finitude and begin a process anticipatory mourning, which contributes to making sense of the experience and coming to terms with possible death.