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?

A.

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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