Family Issues after Treatment

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Daughter and Mother

When treatment ends, families are often unprepared for the fact that recovery takes time. In general, your recovery will take much longer than your treatment did. Survivors often say that they didn't realize how much time they needed to recover. This can lead to disappointment, worry, and frustration for everyone. 

Families also may not realize that the way their family works may have changed permanently as a result of cancer. They may need help dealing with the changes and keeping the "new" family strong.

Some survivors say they would not have been able to cope without the help and love of their family members. And even though treatment has ended, they still receive a lot of support. For other families, problems that were present before the cancer diagnosis may still exist, or new ones may develop. You may receive less support than you had hoped.

Common problems with loved ones:

  • People expect you to do what you did before your cancer. For instance, if you used to take care of the house or yard before your treatment, you may find that these jobs are still too much for you to handle. Yet family members who took over for you may want life to go back to normal. They may expect you to do what you used to do around the house.
  • You may expect more from your family than you receive. They may disappoint you, which might make you angry or frustrated. For example you may get less attention and concern than you did during treatment.
  • You may still need to depend on others during this time. Even though you want to get back to the role you had in your family before, it may take a while to get into a routine.

At the same time you’re going through these things, your family is still adjusting too. It may be hard for all of you to express feelings or know how to talk about your cancer. To help your family members, you may want to share NCI's booklet for caregivers, Facing Forward: When Someone You Love Has Completed Cancer Treatment.

Getting Help with Family Issues

After treatment, you may want to consider getting help from someone to help you and your family adjust. Ask your doctor or social worker to refer you to a counselor. An expert on family roles and concerns after cancer treatment may help your family work on your problems.

How do you cope with family issues? Here are some ideas that have helped others deal with family concerns:

  • Let others know what you're able to do as you heal - and what not to expect. For example, don't feel like you have to keep the house or yard in perfect order because you always did in the past.
  • Know that this is a new time in your life so it may take time to adjust. Roles in the family may change again and different emotions may get triggered. This is normal. 

Give yourself time. You and your family will be able to adjust over time to the changes cancer brings. Just being open with each other can help ensure that each person's needs are met. Good communication is still very important.

Talking with Children and Teens

Help the children in your family understand that it may take a while for you to have the energy you used to have now that you are finished with treatment. Be open about what you can and can’t do.

You don't have to tell your kids about every checkup or every symptom that occurs. But do tell them if you still have side effects that make certain things hard for you to do. If you’re not able to do an activity or go to an event, the children may think that you’re unhappy or mad at them.

Children of cancer survivors have said that these things are important once their parent has finished treatment. That you:

  • Be honest with them
  • Speak as directly and openly as possible
  • Keep them informed about your cancer and involved in your recovery
  • Spend extra time with them

With your permission, other family members should also be open with your children about your cancer and its treatment.