Talking: After treatment

For many people, the end of treatment is a time of relief and celebration, but it can also be a time of mixed emotions. Children and teenagers may expect life to return to normal straightaway, but the person who has had treatment may be re-evaluating their priorities. Your family might need to find a “new normal”.

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What children need to know?

Children and young people may need to know that cancer is a life-changing experience for many people. Once treatment has finished, some people want life to return to normal as soon as possible, while others feel they need to reflect on what’s happened and re-evaluate their life. This process is commonly called finding a new normal, and it may take months or years.

The person who has completed cancer treatment may:

Make changes

This period can be unsettling and lead to big changes, such as making lifestyle or dietary adjustments, choosing a new career or reassessing relationships.

Continue to feel the physical impact 

The physical effects of cancer sometimes last long after the treatment is over. Fatigue is a problem for most cancer survivors and can interfere with daily activities. Many people have to deal with temporary or permanent side effects, such as physical scars, early menopause, or fertility and sexuality problems.

Worry about recurrence 

One of the major fears for survivors is that the cancer might come back. This is an understandable fear, which can be triggered by regular check-ups and even minor aches and pains.

For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Living well after cancer.

How children react

Like many adults, children may find it hard to understand why things simply can’t go back to the way they were before the cancer. They’ve had to deal with changes while their parent or other loved one was sick, and now they probably want to get back to normal.

Your kids may:

Expect the person who had cancer to bounce back 

Often children don’t understand that fatigue can continue after cancer treatment is over. This can lead to disappointment and frustration.

Become clingy 

Separation anxiety that started during treatment may continue well after treatment is over.

Worry the cancer will return 

Like the person with cancer, recurrence is a big fear for children and young people. You may need to reassure your children that regular check-ups will help monitor the cancer.

Important days

Throughout my son Leo’s treatment, it was so hard to plan. We just had to say, “Let’s see what tomorrow brings.” Two years of that. You think it’s never going to end.

It was such a joyful day when the treatment finally finished. I had never allowed myself to look that far ahead. Leo had a “no more chemo” party at school. Leukaemia treatment is so socially isolating, and it was just wonderful to see people embrace the family and to see Leo so engaged with school and friends.

Now that treatment is over, every day matters. It may not be a good day, but all days are important. We’ve all learnt not to write off time – you don’t put things off. It’s a good life lesson.

I’m really proud of all four of my children. Despite all the hardship, there has been a lot of growth for them. They are more resilient and have developed strength and compassion. Leo’s siblings pulled him through, and we all pulled through together as a family.

Genevieve, mother of four children aged 3, 5, 10 and 14

This information was last reviewed in December 2018
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