The purpose of this research was to deepen the knowledge on the psychological distress of parents of children with oncological diseases. The aim of this study was to identify which areas are the most affected by suffering, check the progress of the parents’ suffering during the course of illness and to assess the role of gender differences in mothers and fathers in psychological reactions. Thirty-nine parents (23 mothers, 16 fathers) of children diagnosed with cancer were recruited. They were asked to complete the Italian version of the Symptom Questionnaire (SQ) (Kellner, 1976). The SQ is a 92 item yes/no questionnaire with four subscales: Depression, Anxiety, Anger-Hostility, and Somatic Symptoms. Participants filled out the questionnaire in three different phases of their child’s disease: diagnosis (T1), one month after (T2), and three months after (T3). Statistical analysis showed a significant decrease of suffering over time, especially in the Anxiety Scale (highest scores at T1). Gender differences (mothers vs. fathers) were found. Mothers had higher scores than fathers, but only after the hospital discharge. Overall, results showed a gradual decrease in the levels of distress of parents from T1 to T3. In regard to gender differences, there were no significant differences during the first phases of the illness, but an increase was found in somatic symptoms in mothers, after their child was discharged from the hospital. This study has highlighted the need to provide an adequate and non-stop psychological support; not only for the pediatric patient but also for his/her caregivers.
Keywords: Children, psycho-oncology, parents, suffering, psychological distress, symptom.