By Margarita Nahapetyan
In spite of severe stress and emotional strain caused by a child's illness, marriages and partnerships of couples whose children are battling cancer are not more likely to fall apart than of those who have cancer-free kids, claims a new 20-year study from Denmark.
To come up with such a conclusion, scientists from the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen looked at more than 47,000 couples among whom were parents of 2,450 children who had been diagnosed with cancer between 1980 and 1997. They were further compared to the parents of nearly 45,000 similar children who were cancer free and being followed for almost two decades. The parents in both groups included married couples as well as those who just cohabited with a partner. Each child in the study who had been diagnosed with illness was matched with about eighteen children of the same age and gender.
The research, which appears to be one of the largest of its kind, took into consideration such factors as parents' employment, their education, income levels and even whether or not a child had passed away or survived the cancer. And, still, the divorce rate for parents of kids who had cancer matched that of the parents whose children were healthy or, in other words, parents of children with cancer were no more likely to divorce or split up (in the case of unmarried cohabitating couples).
Dr. Christoffer Johansen, a principal author of the research, said that there are cultural differences between different countries, including views on marriage and divorce. He also noted that a woman's role in the family is not the same in different cultures (for example, in Denmark working mothers are far more common than stay-at-home moms). However, according to Johansen, the new findings could be similar in other Western countries like the United States and generalized to other countries as well, although they will depend on factors such as access to health insurance.
Of course, the results do not mean that no parents face relationship problems after their kid has been diagnosed with cancer, Johansen said, explaining that having a child with cancer changes and affects all aspects of a man's and a woman's life, including their sex life, taking care of other children in the family, doing household chores, and so on.
Finding out that your kid has cancer is probably the most horrible and distressing experience any parent can face, and distress, given the circumstances, is a normal condition, said Anne Kazak, professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Parents must use all their efforts and energy on a child's treatment as well as support other children in the family. However, Kazak added, it is critical to remember that the relationship between partners is important too, and that couples should try to figure out specific ways of communicating, problem-solving and being a team during this hard time.
The findings are published in the May 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.