How Your Family's Life Will Change After Cancer

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After treatment ends, your family may expect that you'll immediately get back to normal.

In most cases, this is not true. Typically, cancer patients assume previous roles and responsibilities gradually. So as you are able, let your partner and family know when you are ready to get back to your regular routines. These changes may take some time for the family to get used to, even when they involve a return to previous patterns.

For instance, if dad has been the primary parent for much of the past several months, he may have a hard time giving up the increased closeness he has enjoyed with your children. You and your family may need to talk about how to preserve this and other positive aspects of this period of time.

Ask your doctor what you and your family can expect in the weeks and months following the end of treatment, and share this information with your family. Depending on the ages and developmental maturity of your children, you may decide to talk to them as a group, or with each child individually.

When you talk, you might start by explaining that you have finished your treatment, that you are okay now, and that both you and the family can begin getting back to normal. Let them know that this will take time, and probably will involve changes in your family routines, just as the diagnosis and treatment did. As circumstances permit, spell out these changes as specifically as possible.

For example, if dad has been ill, he might say, "Mom will be able to lead your Girl Scout troop now, because I won't need her at home so much," or, "I'm going to start doing homework with you again, so you won't have to meet with your tutor anymore." Let them know the limits of your strength and energy. For instance, you might explain that even though you've had your last chemotherapy appointment, you might still be tired over the next few months.

The transition period may be a little bumpy, but usually the bumps work themselves out with time and effort.

However, if it gets to be more than you and your partner can comfortably handle, don't go at it alone: ask for the help of your medical team. Oncologists, nurses, social workers, and other hospital staff have lots of experience assisting families through this potentially difficult time, so don't hesitate to ask for their advice and support.

If your children, especially your teenagers, had more freedom while you were undergoing treatment — either by choice or because you and your partner were too exhausted or pulled in too many directions to do anything else — expect some resistance to your efforts to reestablish previous limits and routines.

Use this resistance as an opportunity to rethink the rules. Get input from your children, and assess whether the old ways of doing things still apply. Many children become more responsible and mature when the family faces a serious illness. Depending on how your children coped with your diagnosis and treatment, you may or may not want to make some changes. Again, patience and good communication will help you get through this transition.