Q. I am 19 and my mother was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago. She has had an operation and been through chemotherapy treatment and is technically 'cancer free' now, however we have been told she has a very slim chance of living past 5 years. My mother has completely changed, and I don't know how to talk to her as she seems like a completely different person since chemo. Is this normal?
Undergoing treatment for any type of cancer is an intense experience, not only on an emotional level, but spiritually and physically as well. Often, those that have completed cancer treatment face a new type of difficulty; they must now acknowledge that their life is forever changed. They must deal with a new reality as they shift focus from coping with treatment to adjusting to their “new normal”. I use the term “new normal” because whatever was ‘normal’ for your mother before her diagnosis no longer rings true to her.
It is possible that your mother seems “like a completely different person” since her treatment because she must deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity that can persist following the completion of treatment. Although she may be “cancer free”, she may feel that her life is limited by the five year prognosis which has made her feel vulnerable and afraid. Many emotional challenges arise after treatment because people have focused all of their time and energy on physically fighting their diagnosis; they have neglected the emotional aspects in the process.
Encouraging her to maintain healthy, supportive relationships with those most significant to her is a crucial part of the healing process. You have to ask yourself, “How has my mother changed and is there is different way I can try talking to her?” She might feel alone in her experience and need your support more now than ever before. Does she have emotional support or is she speaking to a therapist or counselor? Anxiety and depression are common in those who are going through or have completed treatment for cancer. It is important to recognize any red flags for these disorders in order to gain the necessary support.
It is also good to be aware of the different types of support available:
- Professional support provides you with information, resources and counseling
- Peer-to-peer support reduces your sense of isolation and helps you connect with others who share similar concerns (e.g., Cancer Hope Network)
To access these types of support, speak with an oncology social worker or join a post-treatment support group at CancerCare. A social worker can also help you identify local support services; contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE to speak to an oncology social worker for more information.
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Answers from Other Experts About Young Adults and Cancer
My 24-year-old son was recently diagnosed with cancer and I think it would be a good idea for him to join a support group. How do I convince him?
As a caregiver, you may feel that your son should join a support group to help him navigate the challenges he may face in regards to his diagnosis and treatment. The difficult part of all of this is that your son must be able to make that decision on his own. As a young adult facing cancer, he may need to understand what his cancer diagnosis and treatment will look like before he is able to give and get support from a group. Managing doctor’s appointments and scheduling treatments can be taxing, however addressing the benefits he may find in a support group is the first step in educating him about how a support group can help.
Support groups can offer a network of comfort and encouragement, a place of unbiased support and an environment that a young adult does not have to explain what he or she is going through because the other group members will understand. CancerCare offers a face-to-face Young Adult Patient Support Group for anyone located in the New York City area. In addition, we offer several patient online support groups. Your son may also want to reach out to Stupid Cancer, an organization that addresses several young adult cancer issues through advocacy, support and more.
As a caregiver, you may want to look into services for yourself. You can contact CancerCare’s Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673) to learn more about our services for caregivers. In addition, you may find some of our publications helpful in navigating your new role as a caregiver.
I am 28 years old and it seems like I'm the only one my age with cancer. Is there anyone else like me out there?
Hearing that you have been diagnosed with cancer as a young adult can be overwhelming and isolating, however you are not alone in this. The answer to your question is yes, there are other people out there like you. There are several organizations that can help you connect with other people your age who have been diagnosed with cancer. At CancerCare, we offer services for young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer through individual counseling, either face-to-face or by phone. We also offer a Young Adult Patient Support Group for anyone between the ages of 20 to 39 who is located in the New York City area.
These organizations specialize in providing support and services to young adults with cancer and might be helpful as well:
Are there programs that can help me feel better about myself? I'm 29, recently finished chemo and radiation and am feeling blah. Anything I can join?
Having cancer in your 20s or 30s can be an overwhelming experience, particularly once treatment is over. Adjusting to the “new normal” can be especially difficult. Connecting with others your age who have also faced cancer and can relate to those days of just feeling “blah,” can be very helpful in normalizing your experience.
There are several organizations that offer support services to help meet the needs of people coping with cancer in their 20s and 30s. These organizations can help you feel connected and secure in the idea that you are NOT alone!
- Stupid Cancer
- Planet Cancer
- The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults
- The Young Survival Coalition (for breast cancer survivors)
The following organizations offer retreats and other camp experiences for young adults with cancer and post treatment survivors:
As a post-treatment survivor, you’ll find helpful information in our booklet, After Treatment Ends: Tools for the Adult Cancer Survivor. All of our post-treatment information and support services can be found on our website. You may also call CancerCare and speak with an oncology social worker who can provide you with support and search for additional resources.