No one’s experience with cancer is the same. But having an understanding of what generally happens at certain times can help you feel more prepared.
Finding out about a cancer diagnosis, and sharing that news with other people, can be some of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have. For many people, the first step is finding out as much as possible about the relevant cancer type and treatment. Have a look at what other parents, teenagers and young adults have to say about getting support at diagnosis, and breaking the news to family members and friends. There are some great resources available to help siblings and grandparents. You might also find these resources about dealing with work and school/university to be helpful.
There tends to be ‘information overload’ in the early days, so don’t feel you have to take everything in at once. Processing what’s happening can take time; shock and anxiety are common responses. Lots of parents and young people talk about the importance of establishing a routine and keeping organised, and embracing offers of support. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of any questions you have for clinicians, so you’re ready when you see them.
Common types of cancer treatment include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Most people have a combination of these. There are also other procedures like bone marrow transplants or stem cell therapy, which are not as common, or only used for certain cancers.
For more information on the different types of treatment, check out Cancer Council Australia’s information on types of cancer and other cancer-specific organisations.
The hospital where treatment takes place may depend on where you live and the type of cancer. Not all hospitals provide cancer treatment, so you may have to travel, especially if you live in a rural area. Depending on age, treatment might happen at a paediatric (children’s) hospital or an adult hospital. These resources explain common terms and procedures involved with treatment, and the different professionals who make up a cancer team.
When treatment ends
This is often a time of great celebration, but it can also bring challenges. Getting back into work or study can take time, and you might find there are still side-effects of treatment. Relationships and friendships may have changed too. Lots of people worry about the possibility of relapse. You might find it helpful to hear stories from others who have experienced this stage.
When cancer can’t be cured
Most children and young people with cancer will not die from their illness, and survival rates for most cancer types are improving all the time. However in a minority of cases, sometimes cancer doesn’t respond to treatment. There’s no right or wrong way to deal such devastating news. If this happens to you and your family, palliative care professionals can provide excellent advice and guidance. There are also many organisations and resources that can help with practical and emotional support through bereavement.
‘Survivor’ is a term often used to describe someone who has completed treatment and not seen any sign of cancer for at least a few years. While it’s great to be cancer-free, there are often some serious issues that young people and families at this stage still need to contend with. It’s important to keep on top of follow-up appointments, and minimise or manage any long term side effects. Fear of relapse is very common. There are certain social and emotional issues that can arise for survivors, especially teenagers who had cancer as children. Keeping physically and mentally healthy is key, for children, young people and parents alike.
Not everyone likes the term ‘cancer journey’, as it suggests a linear movement from one point to another. The reality of cancer is that it can sometimes be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes you feel like you’re going round in circles, sometimes you’re making steady progress. It’s different for everyone, but surrounding yourself with compassionate people and reliable information will help you when times get tough.