When Palliative Care Is a Family Affair: Serious Disease in Adults With Young Children

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, RN


June 27, 2017

The Kids Don't Know, and Don't Want to Know

Joseph is a 48-year-old immigrant from Poland who has been employed as an accountant assistant in a family business in New York since arriving in the United States 10 years ago. He and his wife, Irene, have two children, ages 6 and 13 years.

Joseph was recently diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and is now starting third-line chemotherapy and considering a clinical trial. The oncology nurse, Jim, who has been very close to Joseph and Irene, is becoming increasingly concerned about Joseph's worsening symptoms and what seems to be avoidance of any discussions of his prognosis.

During today's visit, Jim asks Joseph and Irene how the children are doing. They inform Jim that they haven't really told their 6-year-old daughter about the illness or treatment because she is too young. They say that their 13-year-old son "doesn't want to know anything" and prefers to stay with his friends as much as possible and has become very involved in school activities. Joseph adds, "Hopefully, this clinical trial will be the cure, and all this disruption will be over and our family can be whole again."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.