Pediatric HealthSource: Life After Cancer

Tammi Young-Saleme, Ph.D.

Q: My daughter just finished cancer treatment. How can I be most supportive as our family eases back into normal routines?

A: Completion of a child’s cancer treatment is something worth celebrating, but it also may bring new challenges to the youngster and his or her family. Both new worries and new routines make up the “new normal,” and it’s important to be supported in whatever way is needed most.

Some children get back into school and home routines quickly and without much trouble. For others, the transition can be more difficult. Families can take things slowly, getting back into the swing of things at their own pace, taking everything one day at a time.

Take the time to celebrate, and mark the end of cancer treatment in a special way. Some families find comfort in helping others following treatment, and involving the entire family in giving back in some way could help to establish a new and grounding routine.

Sometimes, long-term and late side effects of treatment are involved, such as cognitive changes that impact a child’s ability to remember, problem solve and learn skills such as handwriting, vocabulary or math. In these cases, families can speak with staff in follow-up care clinics to identify next steps to get support from the child’s school. Other late effects, such as physical and emotional issues, should also be discussed with your child’s cancer care team.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

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Tammi Young-Saleme, Ph.D., is director of psychosocial services and program development in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplant at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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Life after cancer treatment brings about excitement and stress. In order to offer and receive support in the most helpful way, parents should:

  • Ask questions. Discuss future plans with your child’s cancer team, including follow-up care, medication schedules, available survivorship resources and more.
  • Watch for signs of emotional distress. This can include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms. If your child isn’t enjoying things they used to, isn’t sleeping well, avoids situations that remind them of diagnosis or treatment, or is fearful or irritable, speak with your child’s cancer care team.
  • Keep siblings in mind. Siblings may have become more independent while their brother or sister and parents were in the hospital. Talk about the special things siblings have done during treatment, and praise their resiliency. 

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