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Parental experience of their child’s cancer diagnosis as a predictor of health anxiety

Moulton, Kayleigh
DeLone, Alexandra M.
Following a child’s pediatric cancer diagnosis, both the child and parent experience significant psychological stress. Several factors, such as cognitive appraisal mechanisms, demographic variables, stress, anxiety, and social support have been identified as important indicators of psychological risk or resiliency. To date, however, little is known about the experience of health anxiety related to the experience of caring for a child with cancer. Health anxiety is defined as a fear of becoming ill that causes individuals to interpret normal physical symptoms as a sign of illness. The present study explored the relationship between parents’ experience of their child’s cancer journey and the presence of health anxiety in the parent. Parents/caregivers of children with a primary diagnosis of pediatric cancer were recruited from a comprehensive cancer center in the Midwest. All children were currently on active treatment. Parents/caregivers completed self-report questionnaires including demographic information, experience with their child’s illness across 4 domains: guilt and worry, unresolved sorrow and anger, long-term uncertainty, and emotional resources (Parent Experience of Childhood Illness Scale (PECI)), and their own health anxiety (Short Health Anxiety Inventory (SHAI)). Our study found that there is an association between parents’ emotional experiences of sorrow and anger and long-term uncertainty and their health anxiety when caring for their child with cancer. Parents of children with pediatric cancer who experience greater amounts of stress may be at higher risk to develop health anxiety.