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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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:
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.
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.
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.
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
We thank the reviewers of this book: Professor Kate White, Chair of Nursing, The University of Sydney, NSW; Sarah Ellis, Psychologist, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids with Cancer Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Chandra Franken, Program Manager – NSW & ACT, Starlight Children’s Foundation, NSW; John Friedsam, General Manager of Divisions, CanTeen, NSW; Keely Gordon-King, Cancer Counselling Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Stephanie Konings, Research Officer, CanTeen, NSW; Sally and Rosie Morgan, Consumers; Dr Pandora Patterson, General Manager, Research and Youth Cancer Services, Canteen, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Cancer Nursing Research Unit, The University of Sydney, NSW and Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK; Suzanne Rumi, Consumer; Michael Sieders, Primary School Program Manager, Camp Quality.
We would also like to thank the health professionals, consumers, organisations and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title, and we are grateful to the parents and young people whose real-life stories have added to the richness and relevance of this book.
We thank and acknowledge Dr Paula K. Rauch, MD, Founding Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, whose research and writing on helping parents talk to their children about cancer was used as source material for this book and has been adapted in several sections: pages 8 -11, Different views of cancer; page 24, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; pages 26 -27, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30 -31, Prepare for hospital and treatment centre visits; and page 37, Encouraging family time. We also thank the American Cancer Society for permission to use and adapt material on pages 8 -11 from its book Cancer in Our Family: Helping children cope with a parent’s illness (2013); Macmillan Cancer Support for permission to use its book Talking to Children and Teenagers When an Adult Has Cancer (2013) as a source of information; Jessica Watt, Oncology Social Worker, Children’s Hospital Westmead, for her contribution on page 18, When another child has cancer; Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 38, Spending one-on-one time; and Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and The Guardian for permission to adapt €œHow do you tell your children you have cancer? €_x009d_, on pages 21 and 47 – full story is available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/29/how-do-you-tell-your-children-you-have-cancer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.