Ashley Charitable Trust


Following invaluable children's research, the Ashley Charitable Trust provided funding for Gillian and her colleagues to undertake a study to explore father-child communication following the diagnosis of maternal breast cancer, to examine disparities in their understanding of the impact of the illness, and identify gaps in their need for support and information.

Fathers were sourced to take part through the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital's Jane Ashley Unit at the Churchill Hospital.

Participants included 26 fathers whose partners had early breast cancer and 31 of their children aged between six and 18 years.


Fathers described their reaction to news of their partner's breast cancer and their attempts to provide support and maintain normal family life for their children. Fathers were keen to reassure and protect children, but often said they lacked sufficient information about breast cancer – especially the side effects of treatments. The fathers in the study sometimes did not recognise the extent of their children's distress and some interpreted the reactions as bad behaviour or rudeness. Children were often acutely aware of the father's emotional state, and expressed a wish to protect him. Some fathers would have liked an opportunity to talk to a clinician directly about the children, but did not want to claim clinical time for themselves or their children.


The study suggests that clinicians could improve their care of breast cancer patients by being more family-centred. Fathers routinely need more information and preparation about the likely impact of illness and its treatment on the mother, and how children of different ages may react to the emotional strain. Clinicians need to be prepared to offer to talk to teenagers.


2008 – Paper published by Psycho-Oncology, a mainstream and highly regarded publication with joint UK/US editors.