Study hopes to help parents cope during children’s cancer treatment

CALGARY- Allison and Peter Campbell had just begun a new life together when they received devastating news. Allison’s five-year-old daughter Madeline had cancer.

“It was such a stressful time,” Allison recalls. The pressure proved to be nearly too much for the couple and for a brief period of time, they separated.

“In the beginning it was very negative. We just weren’t dealing with things the way we should have been. We were pushing each other away, running away from our problems instead of facing them.”

Dr. Nancy Moules is now learning from Allison’s story as she studies the effect childhood cancer has on parents’ relationships.

“The most significant relationship a child experiences is their relationship with their parents and when the parents’ relationship isn’t going well – the child suffers,” says Moules, a nursing professor with the University of Calgary.   “In many ways caring for the child is about caring for that relationship and helping them.”

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The research is supported by the Kids Cancer Care Foundation’s Pediatric Oncology Research Fund. The goal is to educate health professionals so they’re able to offer better support during these difficult times.

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The study will involve interviews with 10 to 15 parents, representing three different experiences of childhood cancer: parents of children who have survived cancer and who are considered fully cured and are living with no complications; parents of children who have survived cancer but live with life-altering consequences from their treatments;  and parents of children who have died from cancer.

During each interview, parents are asked to offer advice for others. So far, the message is often the same.

“You have to take time, be it going for dinner, having an evening alone or going away to the mountains for the weekend,” Moules says. “You have to nurture that relationship, you can’t forget it during that time.”

Allison and Peter worked hard to strengthen their relationship in the years following Madeline’s cancer treatment.  The family enjoyed three years cancer free before they were tested again. In 2011, Madeline’s cancer returned. Sadly, after a 10 week battle, the eight-year-old passed away.

“Since Madeline’s been gone we’ve really realized that the arguments we used to have were so insignificant and petty,” Allison explains.  “We work hard now at forgetting about those things and to just really enjoy our time together, our family and life in general.”

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Dr. Moules is still looking for parents who wish to participate in her research.  To be part of the study, email

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