By Annie Murphy Paul, published on March 1, 1998 - last reviewed on June 13, 2012
There's no question that cancer often leaves trauma in its wake. But whenit's leukemia, a cancer that strikes young people, it may be the parents and not the survivors who bear the scars.
Anne Kazak, M.D., of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, studied 130 children and teens who had lived through an earlier bout with leukemia. Comparing them with peers who had never had the illness, she found no difference between the groups in their levels of post-traumatic stress. When she compared the survivors' parents to the healthy kids' parents, however, she found that the first group had significantly higher levels of symptoms such as intrusive memories and flashbacks. Though parents seemed to bear the brunt of the trauma, the kids were still affected, says Kazak: "Since mothers and fathers shape their children's experiences and the overall functioning of the family, the parents' distress can have an impact on the children's and the family's long-term adjustment."
Kazak says that supportive therapy for parents at the time of the children's cancer treatment and afterwards can help these sometimes-forgotten victims of cancer: "Parents and the professionals who help them need to recognize that the cancer experience doesn't just go away."