The goal of this study was to determine what strategies caregivers use to cope with the stress of a child who has recently undergone surgical treatment for a newly diagnosed brain tumor. Results will be used to improve psychosocial assessments and treatments provided to these families during initial hospitalization.
Caregivers of children with newly diagnosed brain tumors admitted to Children’s of Alabama were enrolled during the child’s initial hospitalization for surgical treatment from April 2016 to August 2017. The single-item, National Comprehensive Cancer Network visual analog Distress Thermometer (DT) was administered. Clinical and demographic variables were collected from the medical record. Approximately 1 month after patients were discharged from the hospital, caregivers participated in a semistructured interview that included questions about parent and family coping strategies. Broad questions about stress management since diagnosis were followed by specific questions about individual coping strategies. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded for common themes. Themes were broadly characterized as adaptive versus maladaptive coping. Analysis was then performed to determine if DT scores or clinical or demographic factors were associated with the presence of maladaptive coping using a concurrent triangulation mixed-methods design.
Caregivers identified several adaptive coping strategies, such as active coping, acceptance coping, emotion-focused coping, spiritual coping, social support, and posttraumatic growth. Maladaptive coping strategies were mostly categorized as avoidant coping. Caregivers endorsed multiple different coping strategies (mean of 4.59 strategies per caregiver). No clinical or demographic variables, whether the tumor was benign or malignant, or the DT score correlated with caregiver endorsement of maladaptive coping strategies.
Caregivers of children newly diagnosed with brain tumors employ a number of coping strategies, some of which are maladaptive. The authors have not identified any method for predicting who is at risk for maladaptive coping. Assessment of coping skills and education about coping have the potential to improve overall care delivery to these families.