Every parent whose child has been diagnosed with cancer wants to hear this word: remission. A complete remission is when the signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. Remission can also be partial, where some, though not all, signs and symptoms have disappeared.
While the word is welcomed—even celebrated—it can also bring its own concerns and challenges. What do we do now? How can we ever relax? What if the cancer comes back? Can we face life from now on without our cancer team by our side 24/7?
Path to improved well being
Remember, remission is a good thing. It means your child feels better physically. He’s got more strength, more energy, and more time to focus on being a kid, rather than spending all his time with doctors and treatments. Your child and your entire family have gone through a horrific experience. You may never go back to exactly the way life was before your child’s diagnosis. But life can—and should—be full and enjoyable for all of you going forward.
It’s important to know that childhood cancer survivors will need follow up and monitoring for the rest of their lives. They are now at higher risk for something called late effects. These effects can occur soon after, or many years after treatment is completed.
Speak to your child’s oncologist (cancer doctor) about getting a treatment summary. The summary should include what you need to take care of going forward with your child. Keep this in a safe place so you can share it with your child’s primary care doctor and any other specialists your child may see down the line.
You should also keep records of your child’s history. Right now, everything is fresh in your mind, but dates and events are easy to forget as the years progress. Write down key facts about your child’s cancer and treatment, including:
- The date of diagnosis.
- The type of cancer your child was treated for.
- Pathology reports that describe the type and stage of cancer.
- Dates and types of any imaging tests (like MRIs or CT scans).
- Places and dates of treatments (details of surgeries, sites and total amounts of radiation therapy, names and doses of chemotherapy and other drugs, etc).
- Any side effects or bad reactions to treatments or drugs your child took.
- Contact names and numbers for key members of your child’s treatment team.
- Identifying number and title of any clinical trials your child was involved in.
- The cancer treatment’s end date.
How often your child will have to see the oncologist from now on will depend on the type of cancer and treatments he had. But in general, survivors usually return to the doctor every 3 to 4 months during the first 2 to 3 years after treatment. Beyond that, children usually need regular follow-up visits every 6 months to a year.
At each visit, your doctor will give your child a physical exam, and may check your child’s blood and do tests like MRI or CT scan. These will look for side effects from the treatment and checks if the cancer had returned or spread to any other parts of the body.
Eat right and move more
Going forward, it’s important that your child makes staying on a healthy diet and exercise program a priority. A well-balanced diet can help your child regain his or her energy and reverse some of the damage the drugs and radiation may have done. A healthy diet can also help prevent certain types of cancers that can happen later in life.
Include a variety of foods in your child’s meal plan. Be sure he or she includes the following in his daily diet:
- Plenty of vegetables. Be sure to include dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other vegetables.
- Whole fruits.
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Some examples include milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Different types of proteins including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (such as peas and beans), nuts, seeds, and soy products.
Your child’s daily diet should limit:
- Saturated fats found in things such as fatty beef, butter, and fried foods. They should make up less than 10% of your child’s daily calories.
- Added sugars. Sugar and syrups are added to some foods and beverages when they are processed or prepared. This includes soft drinks, candy, sweetened dairy products such as ice cream, and sugary cereals. They should make up less than 10% of your child’s daily calories.
- Trans fats. These are fats that are solid at room temperature. Think stick margarine, or anything with the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oils.”
- Sodium. Your child should consume less than 2,300 mg per day.
Your child should also be getting at least an hour of some sort of physical activity almost every day of the week. He or she may need to start slowly. Begin with 10 to 15 minutes of easy walking every day. As they feel stronger, add a few minutes at a time until they’re up to an hour a day.
Make sure older children understand that smoking, alcohol use, and using drugs other than ones that are prescribed may worsen the effects of chemotherapy or radiation. They also may raise the risk of secondary cancers.
Things to consider
When a child has cancer, multiple treatments may be used to fight it. Unfortunately, these treatments don’t differentiate between unhealthy and healthy cells. Because of this, children who have had cancer often experience what’s called “late effects.” These are health problems that occur months or even years down the line. They can affect the child physically and mentally.
Whether late effects occur and their seriousness will depend on various things, including:
- the type and location of the cancer
- the child’s age at diagnosis
- the treatment used
- family history
- the child’s future health habits.
That’s why regular follow-up care and living a healthy lifestyle are so important for children who have had cancer.
Questions for your child’s doctor
- What kinds of symptoms should I look for that mean I should call you?
- What doctors should my child see now that the cancer is gone?
- How often will he or she see a doctor?
- What can be done to address my child’s problems (pain, fatigue, etc.) after treatment?
- How long until my child feels like his or her old self again?
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This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.