The Significance of Motherhood for Adolescents Whose Mothers Have Breast Cancer

Donna A. Clemmens

family, adolescent, breast cancer
ONF 2009, 36(5), 571-577. DOI: 10.1188/09.ONF.571-577

Purpose/Objectives: To describe adolescents' experiences of living with mothers with breast cancer.

Research Approach: Qualitative.

Setting: Northeastern United States.

Participants: 11 adolescents aged 13-19 years whose mothers were diagnosed with breast cancer within a year prior to the study.

Methodologic Approach: With Van Manen's phenomenologic interpretive paradigm, multiple levels of analysis of transcribed semistructured interviews yielded common themes and a unique account and understanding of adolescents' lives when their mothers have breast cancer.

Main Research Variables: Adolescent coping and maternal breast cancer.

Findings: Five distinct themes were identified: life changed, turning to self, learning to be with my mother, needing to normalize, and speaking openly—the importance of communication. Study findings uncovered the powerful role mothers held in the adolescents' lives.

Conclusions: The depth of the feelings and conflicts expressed by the adolescent participants, who appeared to be coping with their mothers' breast cancer, emphasizes the need to explore coping responses used in adolescent adjustment to maternal breast cancer. Given that all the adolescents reported some level of anxiety and conflict in their lives, further research should address factors that underlie their coping mechanisms.

Interpretation: Study findings and insights underscore the significance of the maternal-adolescent relationship. Healthcare professionals need to ask more directed questions and develop interviewing and counseling skills to support mothers through this difficult illness. Adolescent children require support and guidance in coping with their mothers' breast cancer journey.

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