Selma native studying cancer’s impact on families

Published 9:36 pm Friday, April 1, 2016

Selma native Dr. Sherwood Burns-Nader is studying the day-to-day life of families with children recently diagnosed with cancer to help future families during that difficult time.

Forty-three kids are diagnosed with cancer each day and an additional 40,000 children undergo cancer treatment each year, according to

“What we are hoping to do is better understand the lives of these parents so we can share with other parents who may go through it,” Burns-Nader said. “You’re not alone in this; the stress you’re feeling is normal.”

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Burns-Nader is a certified child life specialist and an assistant professor at the University of Alabama’s College of Human Environmental Sciences’ department of human development and human studies.

She is the daughter of Jule Burns and the late Gary Burns.

She graduated from John T. Morgan Academy in 2001. Afterward, she obtained her undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama.

While reading through literature on pediatric cancer families, she discovered many studies were conducted retroactively.

“Nothing really looked at while you’re going through this. What is the daily experience like, what is your coping like, how does that fluctuate day to day,” Burns-Nader said.

“Retrospective, you’re out of the scary situation. You’ve figured out how to do it all.”

The study began about a month ago. Participants must be within the first six months of being diagnosed and must have an email address and access to Internet.

The child can be of any age, diagnosed with any kind of cancer.

The survey lasts seven days. On the first day, participants are asked to fill out a demographic survey. Afterward, the parent participants will complete a daily reflection, rating different experiences on a scale from one to five. Survey questions will touch on topics including levels of financial and emotional stress, the child’s condition and how helpful medical staff has been.

Once the survey has been completed, participants are given a $10 electronic gift card daily.

Burns-Nader said she will continue the study until she reaches 60 participants. At the moment, she has less than 10. While most of the current participants are from Alabama, she is seeking to expand the survey more nationally.

She believes conducting the research during the first six months, as opposed to afterward, will provide more accurate information.

“In retrospect, you’re in a really good place coping wise because you’re no longer battling this cancer, so you may have a more optimistic outlook,” she said.

The information will be used for conferences and published in professional journals so healthcare professionals can better provide resources for the family.