When Loved Ones Complete Treatment

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

Most people realize that their loved ones with cancer need special attention when they are beginning treatment.

Fewer people realize that their loved ones also need special attention when they are finishing cancer treatment.

Family members generally look forward to the end of treatment because it means that life may get back to normal. They’ve probably put their own lives on hold for months, and they’re eager for a vacation from the whole cancer experience.

People with cancer often have mixed feelings as treatment ends. While they’re happy to be rid of the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, they wonder what the future holds. Have they been cured, or will the cancer return?

These fears fade with time, but the months immediately following treatment are especially difficult. Patients miss the security provided by their chemo nurses and radiation therapists. These professionals provided a ready outlet for their questions and fears.

When treatment is over, many patients think about cancer nearly all of the time. They stew over things and they want to talk. The people most likely to be within earshot are loved ones who may be less than enthused about talking about cancer, cancer, and more cancer.

So, how can loved ones help while maintaining their own sanity?

I recommend that they encourage the patient to talk about his or her feelings, but mostly with someone other than a loved one. This is a perfect time for to join a support group. I joined a group when I found myself in a post-treatment funk and that group provided just the outlet I needed.

In addition to face-to-face groups, there are on-line discussion groups for nearly every type of cancer and situation. Some people, of course, just don’t like groups, and I encourage them to connect on an individual basis with a therapist, pastor, or other professional who can offer emotional support. This can provide some much-needed breathing space for everyone.

Loved ones can also help by gently shifting the focus from illness to wellness. I always caution against making major lifestyle changes during cancer treatment, but lifestyle changes after treatment often help physically and provide one with a sense of control. And nearly everyone can benefit from a better diet, moderate exercise, and other healthy behaviors.

Reprinted with permission by the Ithaca Journal. 

Click here for all of Bob’s columns


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