What If My Child's Cancer Comes Back? Coping With Fear Of Recurrence

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
Last Reviewed: August 11, 2022

What is a recurrence?

  • A recurrence is a return or relapse of your child’s cancer in the original location or somewhere else in the body (called metastasis).
  • It is also possible to have a new, unrelated cancer diagnosed in another part of the body. This is not a recurrence but a new cancer altogether.

Why does recurrence happen?

  • Cancer therapy aims to remove or kill (through radiation or chemotherapy) all the cancer cells in the body.
  • Unfortunately, we cannot detect all the cells with today's tests, and some cells may be left behind and resurface later as a recurrence or metastasis.

What can I do to reduce my child’s risk of recurrence?

  • Be aware of your child’s body and report any new symptoms.
  • Teach and encourage your child how to communicate with you about their aches, pains, lumps, and bumps.
  • Promote healthy choices in your child and family by eating a healthy diet.
  • Nurture good sleep habits for your child and your family.
  • Encourage your child to play and exercise regularly.
  • Communicate regularly with your child’s medical team and keep ALL follow-up appointments.
  • Take prescribed medications and get all scheduled labs and scans – even if they feel fine!

What should I ask my child’s healthcare team about the possibility of recurrence?

  • How likely is it for this cancer to come back?
  • When is it most likely to come back?
  • Where would it most likely come back?
  • Is there anything we can do to keep it from coming back?
  • What symptoms should we look for and report?

What can I do to balance a fear of recurrence and our family’s desire to have a "normal" life?

  • Some degree of worry, nervousness, and anxiety is normal.
    • If these feelings start to interfere with your child or family’s daily life or coming to appointments, it's time to talk to your healthcare team.
  • Remember, your child has gotten through cancer treatment; take inventory of the coping skills that got your child and family through it and use them after treatment. Ask for help from your support community when you need it.
  • Be aware of triggers for anxiety related to the cancer experience, including the anniversary of your child’s diagnosis or completion of treatment, upcoming scans or blood tests, and scheduled appointments. Pull out the things that help you de-stress during these times.
  • Explore deep breathing techniques, journaling, mediation, and mindfulness as ways to help manage your thoughts and concerns. Teach these to your child.
  • Encourage your child to continue to live their life: go to school, engage with your family and friends, try a new hobby, or perhaps give back to the cancer care community by being a buddy or peer support. This goes for parents and siblings too.
  • Seek out help and support from family, friends, clergy, support groups, and social workers.
  • As much as possible, try to put this fear in the “backseat”. Help your family get back to enjoying life and each other. Acknowledge the experience, but don’t let it control the future. If cancer does come back, your family will deal with it. For now, enjoy life!

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