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When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

  • Posted: 04/12/2011

After treatment

What does life after treatment look like for you and your family?
What if treatment doesn't help?
If your parent passes away, know that...

When your parent is finally done with treatment, you may feel a whole range of emotions. Part of you is glad it is over. Another part of you may miss the freedom or new responsibilities you had while your parent was getting treatment. You may feel confused that your parent still looks sick and is weaker than you expected. You may be afraid the cancer will come back. You may look at life differently now. All these feelings are normal. If you and your family are still feeling that life after treatment is harder than you thought it might be, you might want to talk to a counselor to get guidance through this time.

Things may not go back to exactly how they were before cancer came into your lives. Getting back to your "old life" may take a long time - or it may not happen as you expect.

Here are some things that others have to say about life after treatment. Do any of these kids sound like you?

Caleb talks about the "new normal":

"Now that my mom is done with chemo and radiation, things are pretty different. My older brother drove her to treatment. It was my job to get dinner and help my little sister, Jada, with homework each night. Now that Mom is better, Jada doesn't need as much help from me. For a while I was her hero. Look, I am glad Mom's treatment went well, but getting used to her being up and about is, well, different. My mom says it will take time."
- Caleb, age 15

Sarah appreciates life more:

"I have to admit it, before my mom got sick we fought a lot - over what I was wearing, who I hung out with, or why I wasn't nicer to my little sister. After my mother got cancer, we pulled together more. My sister and I got tight. She looked up to me to make sure we were going to be all right. Now stuff like painting my nails or wearing cool clothes don't matter as much. I even help run a support group for kids at my school who have a sick parent."
- Sarah, age 17

Jake is glad to have his dad back home:

"All I can say is that I never saw my dad cry until he finished his last chemo treatment. The doctors said they think they got all the cancer. My father was so emotional - glad to be alive. Then my mom and brother lost it, too. I have to say that I'm so glad my dad is better. I used to take him for granted. No more."
- Jake, age 16
Whatdoes life after treatment look like for you and your family?

 


 


 





Whatif treatment doesn't help?

If treatment doesn't help your parent, you and your family will face even more challenges. Hearing that your parent might die is very difficult. You may feel many of the same emotions you felt when you first learned that your mom or dad had cancer.

No booklet can give you all the answers or tell you exactly how you will feel. But when the future is so uncertain, teens say it helps to:

  • Make the most of the time you have.
    Do special things as a family. At home, make time for your mom or dad. Call and visit as much as you can if your parent is in the hospital. Write notes and draw pictures. Say "I love you" often.

    If possible, try to have some special times together. If you have not gotten along in the past, you may want to let your parent know you love him or her.

  • Stay on track.
    When people get bad news, they often feel like they're living outside of themselves - that life is moving along without them. That's why it's important to keep a schedule. Get up at the same time each day. Go to school. Meet with friends.

  • Get help when you feel alone.
    Make sure you find people who can help you. In addition to your family, it may help to talk to a social worker, counselor, or people in a support group.
Do you want more support and guidance?
Cancer organizations can also help you during this very difficult time in your life. In the section called Learning More On Your Own, you'll find some organizations to contact.
"It was very hard to hear that my mom's treatment wasn't working anymore. She and I decided to make the most of each day. Some days we talk nonstop. Other times we just sit together and hold hands. But every day, I tell my mom how much I love her. You can't be afraid to love. Not ever. I learned that."
- Emily, age 16

Ifyour parent passes away, know that...

You'll always have memories.
Your parent will always be part of your life. Hold on to your memories of the good times. Don't feel guilty that you're not respecting your parent's memory when you think about something funny that your parent did or said. By laughing and smiling you are bringing back just a little of what was so special about your parent.

The pain will get less intense with time.
At first the pain may be so strong that you might wonder whether you will ever feel happy again. Time has a way of healing. Not being sad every day doesn't mean that you have forgotten your parent. It just means that you are starting to heal.

Everyone grieves in his or her own way.
Some teens grieve for their parent's death by crying. Others get quiet and spend time by themselves. Some find that they need to be around friends and talk. Others get very angry. In any case, most people find it helps to keep a regular routine. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. It's okay to deal with loss at your own pace.

Your parent would want you to be happy.
Stay open to new experiences. Write about your thoughts. Make small changes that give your life new meaning.

Life will change.
Life won't be the same as before, but it can be rich and full again. Keep believing this.

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The past cannot be changed; the future is still in your power."
- Hugh White