Date of Conferral





Human Services


Marie A. Caputi


Few researchers have examined the relationship between earlier stages of breast cancer and its effect on staging of the disease process and the co-occurring coping and communication patterns between mothers and their children. The purposes of this qualitative study with a multiple case study design were to examine (a) coping mechanisms that mothers used to manage the uncertainty of their breast cancer status and (b) the impact of early-stage breast cancer on communication patterns between mothers and their children. The Lazarus and Folkman theory of psychological coping and the McMaster family systems communication theory informed the conceptual framework for the data analysis. The instrument for data gathering was a researcher-designed, semistructured interview guide. The sample consisted of 20 maternal breast cancer survivors and their children. Qualitative data analysis involved member checking and content analysis to confirm the frequency of similarities and differences occurring among participant responses. Key findings were that participants: (a) adapted to their diagnosis while refining their preexisting coping mechanisms, (b) found motherhood to be a source of emotional strength throughout the duration of their cancer process, and (c) managed changes in communication with their children during each phase of cancer treatment by using combinations of communication styles. Oncology social workers can use the findings of this study as an opportunity to develop models of best practices that are effective in helping patients cope with early stage breast cancer. The findings of this study impact social change by informing clinical social work with an effective paradigm that helps mothers and their children cope with the different phases of breast cancer.