The tenacity and tenuousness of hope: parental experiences of hope when their child has a poor cancer prognosis

Cancer Nurs. Sep-Oct 2013;36(5):408-16. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e318291ba7d.


Background: The meaning and role of hope in parents of children with life-threatening illnesses remain relatively unstudied.

Objective: The objectives of this study were to explore parental hope when a child is being treated for a malignancy resistant to treatment and to identify facilitators and barriers to maintaining hope in this context.

Methods: Thirty-five parents of children with difficult-to-treat cancer were interviewed 3 months after diagnosis. Line-by-line coding of transcripts was used to establish categories and themes. Constant comparison was used to examine relationships within and across codes and categories.

Results: Parental hope was related to the child's cure and future. The concept, however, oscillated between being tenacious and robust, and tenuous and elusive, depending on how the child was responding to treatment and the psychosocial context. Focusing on positive outcomes and experiences, spirituality, and social support facilitated being hopeful. Awareness of negative outcomes, information overload, physical and emotional depletion, and fear and uncertainty challenged parental hope.

Conclusions: Developing a model that identifies the nature of parental hope as well as barriers and facilitators to maintaining hope shortly after childhood cancer diagnosis may assist healthcare professionals in supporting parents.

Implications for practice: Understanding parental hope may assist healthcare professionals to avoid overloading parents with too much information at once. Healthcare professionals can also ensure that social support from family, community, and the medical center is available for parents and that their physical and emotional needs are being met to ensure that they maintain hope to best care for their child with cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blogging
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Hope*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / nursing*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Ontario
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents* / psychology
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Support
  • Spirituality
  • Surveys and Questionnaires