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Pandemic Putting Added Strain on Parents of Kids With Cancer

THURSDAY, Feb. 25, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A cancer diagnosis for your child is devastating enough, but new research shows the coronavirus pandemic has made the battle even harder for many families.

"Parents and caregivers of children who have cancer are already under tremendous stress," said study author Kyle Walsh, an associate professor in the department of neurosurgery at Duke University, in Durham, N.C. "And while the pandemic has impacted everyone, the isolation, job losses, reduced wages, school closings and other effects of the pandemic have hit families whose children have cancer especially hard."

For the study, Walsh and his colleagues surveyed 360 parents and caregivers of children in treatment or still being monitored for cancer. The survey was conducted between April and May 2020, during the early months of the pandemic.

Half of the respondents said they'd had to cancel or delay appointments, 9% reported challenges traveling to appointments, and 26% said they switched to telehealth visits.

The survey also found that 28% of respondents had lost household wages due to the pandemic, with 11% struggling to pay for basic needs and 5% having difficulty paying for their child's medical care.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they felt more sad or depressed than before the pandemic, and 77% reported increased feelings of anxiety, often because of isolation and financial struggles.

The study was published online Feb. 23 in the journal Pediatric Blood & Cancer.

"Overall, many families were really struggling with interruptions to care as well as educational disruptions," Walsh said in a Duke news release.

"In families with more than one child, figuring out how to get their cancer patient to doctor or clinical visits, for example, was complicated by having other children home from school, yet those children could not come along to appointments because of visitor limitations at hospitals and clinics," he added.

The information gathered in the survey could help improve outreach and social support for young cancer patients and their families, Walsh noted.

"This idea of trying to identify stress -- where social work teams can intervene -- will be helpful moving forward," Walsh said. "We understand that everybody is feeling stress and distress with COVID, but this is a uniquely at-risk population of children and parents, and we need to make a more concerted effort to identify and alleviate this distress to the best we can."

More information

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has more on COVID-19 and children with cancer.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Feb. 22, 2021

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