UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Communication between children with cancer and their caretakers Ratjen, Björn


The study examines interactions between children with cancer, their parents and hospital staff. Participant observation and interviewing techniques were used to gain insight into the perspectives of the three groups of persons involved. Various hospital staff members were followed through their daily routines and parents were extensively observed and interviewed. Children were observed during their first phase of the treatment in hospital using a case study approach. Extensive examples of interactions and scenes from the hospital setting are presented and analyzed. The changing role of participant observation is discussed and examined from the personal perspective of the observer. The understanding of the communication of each group which was generated showed many failures in mutual understanding during interactions. Well-meaning staff were often caught in organizational and hierarchical issues of the hospital setting and interpreted parent's and children's behaviour according to its usefulness for the application of treatment procedures. Parents tried to comply with hospital requirements, which seemed to represent their only hope for the well-being of their child, while at the same time they had to cope with their feelings in face of the suffering of their child. Children seemed to suffer from the direct consequences of the treatment as well as from the lack of meaningful explanations of the events, which led them to distrust communications. It is concluded that caring persons frequently fail to relate to the world of children with cancer, impeding a cooperative effort in the fight against the illness.

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