How Children May React After Cancer

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Sometimes children will try to "keep it together" if they know you are sick or that the family is stressed. Once they perceive that everything is returning to normal, they may let down their guard and express their resentment or anxiety.

One day, you may notice that your kids are actually getting mad at you, are increasingly moody, or are presenting you with a list of their woes. Try to consider that this is a good sign that they are less worried about you and are beginning to see you in your usual role again.

While it might be useful to talk about these feelings, not all children can put their feelings into words, or even want to.

Although your kids might usually discuss difficult things with you, they may not want to now. Remember that your children will be reassured if you are able to stay relatively calm and handle their reactions with a combination of clear limits and affection. When you respond in this way, you let your kids know that "I'm back and we are going to be okay."

Your children may overreact to any signs that you are not feeling well.

Whenever you have a headache, a stomachache, or fever, your children may worry. If appropriate, reassure them that you "just have a cold," and that the cancer is not coming back. If you are worried, too, then call your doctor for reassurance. This will make it easier for you to respond calmly to your children. Work out with your health care team whom you should call with questions and concerns, so you, too, don't have to sit on worries unnecessarily. Never worry alone.

When children are not well, they can wonder if they, too, have cancer.

This is quite natural. When you can, directly ask your children if they are concerned about being diagnosed with cancer. Reassure them that this is highly unlikely, but don't hesitate to talk to or take your kids to their doctor if they need more information or support.

Children may also seek more sympathy than usual for minor scrapes or symptoms.

In this way, they may be indicating that they are looking for you to resume your role as caregiver and protector, and are trying to find that greater sense of security that familiar routines are falling into place again.

If you're no longer in active treatment, your children may assume that you and the doctors are no longer "doing anything" to beat the cancer, and can come to certain conclusions about what this means.

As a result, some kids will believe that the cancer is all gone, and may act as if everything is normal again or as if nothing ever happened. They may think that your cancer has been "cured," and your family is done with cancer worries forever.

Other kids may worry that no one is doing anything to fight the cancer. Some children may become clingy and won't leave your side, while others may withdraw from you or seem angry.

With younger children, explain that you and the doctors hope the cancer is gone forever, but that you will have follow-up appointments on a regular basis to make sure you are okay.

If your children are older, you might provide a few more details, perhaps saying that you and the doctor hope that the chemotherapy or radiation has gotten rid of the cancer. Explain that even so, you will continue to have regular appointments with your oncologist for blood tests and other lab work to monitor your health.

Most children need this kind of explanation when treatment ends.

After a while, however, your kids may begin to take your good health for granted. As a result, they may not want to know about each visit.

If you find that you get a bit anxious before these periodic visits with your doctor, explain this to your kids. Let them know that you may be a bit impatient or distracted at this time. Ask them if they would like to know when you are going to see the doctor, or if they'd just like to know that all is well once your visit is over. They may not want or need to talk about it, but could appreciate and benefit from a brief update.

Be aware that your children will continue to work through their own reactions, worries, and concerns.

Remind them that you are available to talk with them if and when they wish, and try to listen and look for signs that they have more on their minds and could use some additional support.