Leaving footprints, not scars: a qualitative pilot study of Hispanic mothers’ willingness to communicate with dependent children about an advanced cancer diagnosis

  • Elizabeth T. LoggersEmail author
  • Kedar Kirtane
  • Rebecca Palacios
  • Frances Lewis
Original Article



US Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer as parents than their non-Hispanic white counterparts but little is known about Hispanic parents’ willingness to discuss a terminal cancer diagnosis with dependent children, potentially resulting in suboptimal child coping. Therefore, we investigated Hispanic mothers’ willingness to communicate with dependent children about her actual or hypothetical advanced cancer diagnosis.


Two focus groups (n = 6 participants) and three one-on-one interviews (n = 3) were conducted in either Spanish or English among adult, Mexican-American mothers with a current cancer diagnosis of any stage residing in US-Mexico border communities. Participants reported their perceived concerns, parenting challenges, and openness to discussing an incurable cancer diagnosis with a dependent child. Audio files were transcribed into English and qualitatively coded using content analysis.


Participants, most with breast cancer, ranged in age from 25 to 47. Five had considered the possibility of their own death from advanced cancer and three had previously discussed this with their children. While many expected their children would carry on well without them, seven expressed concern for the emotional/spiritual well-being of their children. Mothers anticipated physical and time-based parenting challenges but wanted the opportunity to focus on themselves and their children in advance of death. All but one would be willing to discuss an advance cancer diagnosis with dependent children; four expressed the value of doing so or the potential harm of abdicating this responsibility.


If faced with an advanced cancer diagnosis, Mexican-American mothers are open to communicating with dependent children.


Palliative care Cancer Hispanic Americans Child Adolescent Terminally ill Parenting Communication Child of impaired parents Parent child relations 


Compliance with ethical standards

The Institutional Review Board at New Mexico State University approved the research protocol for this qualitative study on October 10, 2016 (#13963).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict to interest. Data are under the authors’ full control and may be obtained by contacting the corresponding author.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research CenterClinical Research DivisionSeattleUSA
  2. 2.University of Washington Division of Hematology and OncologySeattleUSA
  3. 3.Head and Neck-Endocrine OncologyMoffitt Cancer CenterTampaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Public Health SciencesNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  5. 5.University of Washington School of NursingSeattleUSA

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