The experience of social support at a camp for siblings of children with cancer
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Childhood cancer has obvious impacts on the children themselves, but also has impacts on their families and siblings. While studies have been conducted on the impacts of cancer on children and their parents, there has been limited consideration of the impacts of cancer on healthy siblings. Some studies have suggested that siblings of children with cancer are the most emotionally disregarded and distressed of all family members as a result of their sibling having cancer. Exposure to stress has a negative impact on the immune system and places siblings at risk for health problems. Thus, finding mechanisms to ameliorate stress are critical. Early intervention and treatment may serve as protective factors against risky behavior and lead to more normative child development and well-being. One method of improving the psychosocial adjustment of siblings of children with cancer has been through interventions such as camp experiences that include opportunities for campers to experience social support. There is a need to better understand the efficacy of intervention programs designed to reduce stress across a variety of settings. The focus of this study was if campers experience social support (emotional, informational, and instrumental) at a three and one-half day residential camp, and the elements of camp campers’ identified as leading to social support. Participant observations of camp and semi-structured interviews with selected campers were used to help gain insights concerning the impact of the camp experience on siblings of children with cancer. Coding of responses was undertaken, which led to the identification of themes and subthemes. Findings provided a narrative description of how campers perceived social support. In addition, social comparison was identified as a critical mechanism for meeting camper’s biological, physiological and behavioral needs. Overarching perceptions of campers were that people at camp were nice and staff was instrumental in facilitating universality and a cycle of reciprocity. Implications of this study suggest intentionally designed camps have the ability to impact a broad range of attitudes and behaviors. The study also supports theory of how structures and processes of social relationships work in relation to good health; and can be applied to a camp setting.
Roberson, Sr., Samuel George (2008). The experience of social support at a camp for siblings of children with cancer. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from