Many teens want to know what to expect during their parent’s cancer treatment. This section briefly explains different treatments, how they work, and their side effects. You will probably have more questions after reading this chapter. It may help to talk with your parents or ask if you can talk with a nurse or social worker.
"Seeing my dad in pain was the worst. One day I just told him how bad I felt for him. He said that he actually looked a lot worse than he felt. I know he's having a hard time, but knowing he doesn't hurt as much as I thought he did made me feel a lot better."
- Ashley, age 15
Cancer treatment aims to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. The type of treatment your parent will be given depends on:
- The type of cancer
- Whether the cancer has spread
- Your parent’s age and general health
- Your parent’s medical history
- Whether the cancer is newly diagnosed or is a recurrence
Remember that there are more than 100 different types of cancer. Each type is treated differently. For information about the people who will be treating your parent, see the Cancer team members section.
Cancer treatments destroy cancer cells, but they may also harm healthy tissues or organs in the process. This harm, or problem, is called a side effect. Some side effects, like feeling sick to the stomach, go away shortly after treatment, but others, like feeling tired, may last for a while after treatment has ended. Some people have few side effects from cancer treatment, while others have more.
Side effects vary from person to person, even among people who are receiving the same treatment. Your parent’s doctor will explain what side effects your parent may have, and how to manage them.
|Treatment||What is it?||How is it done?||What may happen as a result? (side effects)|
Also called an operation
|The removal of a solid tumor||A surgeon operates to remove the tumor. Drugs are used so that the patient is asleep during surgery.|
Also called radiotherapy
|The use of high-energy rays or high-energy particles to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors||Radiation may come from a machine outside the body or from radioactive material placed in the body near the cancer cells.|
Also called chemo
|The use of medicine to destroy cancer cells||The medicine can be given as a pill, as an injection (shot), or through an intravenous (IV) line. It is often given in cycles that alternate between treatment and rest periods.|
|Stem cell transplantation|
Can be a bone marrow transplantation (BMT) or a peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT)
|The use of stem cells found in either the bone marrow or the blood. This repairs stem cells that were destroyed by high doses of chemo and/or radiation therapy.||Stem cell transplantation uses stem cells from the patient or from donors. In many cases the donors are family members. The patient gets these stem cells through an IV line.||The side effects can be much like those from chemo and radiation therapy. In some cases, the side effects may be more serious.|
|Hormone therapy||A treatment that adds, blocks, or removes hormones. Hormone therapy is used to slow or stop the growth of some types of cancer||Hormone therapy can be given as a pill, as an injection, or through a patch worn on the skin. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove the glands that make specific hormones.|
Also called immunotherapy
|Biological therapy uses the body’s own defense system (the immune system) to fight cancer.||Patients may be given medicine in pills, as an injection, or through an IV line.|
Flu-like symptoms such as:
In addition to getting one or more cancer treatments, your parent will also get tests to find out how well the cancer is responding to treatment. A list of common tests can be found in the Monitoring Tests section.
Some treatments may make your parent more likely to get an infection. This happens because cancer treatment can affect the white blood cells, which are the cells that fight infection. An infection can make your mom or dad sicker. So your parent may need to stay away from crowded places or people who have an illness that he or she could catch (such as a cold, the flu, or chicken pox).
You may need to:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer, to keep from spreading germs.
- Avoid bringing home friends who are sick or have a cold.
- Stay away from your parent if you are sick or have a fever.
It’s hard to wait to see whether the treatment will work. Your parent’s doctor may try one treatment, then another. One day your parent may feel a lot better. The next day or week he or she may feel sick again. Treatment can go on for months or sometimes years. This emotional roller coaster is hard on everyone.
Ask your parent or other trusted adults any questions that you have. Ask your dad or mom if it is okay to go with them to their appointment.
Perhaps your parent can arrange for you to talk with their doctor, nurse, or social worker to learn more. It will help to bring a list of questions with you.
When you talk with them, don’t hesitate to:
- Ask what new words mean. Ask for information to be explained in another way, if what the doctor says is confusing.
- Ask to see a model or a picture of what the doctor is talking about. Ask what videos or podcasts you can watch to learn more.
- Ask about support groups for young people that meet online or in your community.
"I had questions but didn't know who to talk to. I asked my mom if I could go with her to her doctor's visit, and she said yes. The first time I just sat there. The next time the doctor asked if I had questions--so I asked a couple. It was easier than I thought it would be."
- Katie, age 14
- What kind of cancer does my parent have?
- Will my parent get better?
- Does this kind of cancer run in families?
- What kind of treatment will my parent get? Will my parent get more than one type of treatment?
- How does the treatment work?
- How do people feel when they get this treatment? Does it hurt?
- How often is this treatment given? How long will treatment take?
- Does the treatment change how people look, feel, or act?
- What if this treatment doesn’t work?
- Where is the treatment given? Can I go along?
It’s okay to ask these questions more than once.
If your parent is in the hospital, you may be nervous about visiting. Learn ahead of time how your parent is doing and what to expect. Remember that they are still the same person, even though they are sick. Don’t be afraid to ask your parent questions and share your thoughts. You can also call, write, and e-mail them.
"I really wanted to visit, but the hospital made me nervous. I wasn't crazy about the smell and didn't like seeing Dad hooked up to machines. I made excuses not to visit, but I missed him too much. Then one day a neighbor drove me over to the hospital after school. I took my homework and did some of it there. Dad looked happy just watching me--and that made me forget about how strange it was to be in this place."
- Keisha, age 13