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Family life after serious illness or cancer treatment

After your child finishes their serious illness or cancer treatment, you might be wondering what happens next – how do you get back to life as it was before serious illness took hold? Read on.

After your taitamaiti / child finishes treatment, well-meaning loved ones might say, "Now you can get back to normal!"

Hang about – ‘normal’ after a serious illness can be very different from the way it was before. You’ll probably feel that things will never be ‘normal’ again. (It’s ‘normal’ to feel this way!)

Knowing that you need to find a routine again and restart the activities that were put on hold by your child’s serious illness is one thing. Making it happen can be another! That’s because you might come up against these issues.

Worrying about the health and safety of your taitamaiti / child

It’s natural for you as mātua / parents and caregivers to be protective and cautious. You need to learn to let your taitamaiti / child go and return to their life too. Finding the right balance will probably need some experimentation. If you need advice, follow up with your hōhipere / hospital care team or Kenzie's Gift.

Feeling abandoned by the medical team

When your taitamaiti / child was first diagnosed, the medical team assembled and cared for them and you. You may still have follow up consults with some members of the team, but the intense medical support ended when treatment finished.

While it's a relief to have all of that behind you and your whānau, you may feel lost, nervous or alone. The hōhipere / hospital social worker and Kenzie's Gift can be really helpful at this time.  

Whānau relationships

When treatment is over, you may recognise the need to re-establish ground rules for your tamariki / children, including the one who’s been through the serious illness. No doubt it’s been a challenge to maintain discipline and whānau rules and routines while your taitamaiti / child has been unwell. Reinstating certain boundaries and behavioural expectations can be just as difficult afterwards.

It’s natural to want to shower the sick taitamaiti / child with extra attention and to relax some of those standards you held previously. As a result, your other tamariki / children have felt neglected, and you’ve probably felt guilty. Other tamariki / children will need to be supported too as the whānau settles back into routines.

There’s nothing wrong with getting some help at this stage. Support organisations like us can help, and so can your hōhipere / hospital social worker. Talking to other parents who have experienced a similar situation can be helpful too.

Remember that the setting of ground rules and disciplines after treatment is finished sends a clear message to the taitamaiti / child who was seriously ill that you expect them to live a long and happy life. Open communication within the whānau is important. Arrange regular whānau meetings for as long as needed, to discuss the impact serious illness has had and to help whānau members return to their old roles.

Relationships outside of the whānau

Serious illness affects the relationships you have with those outside the whānau - people like extended whānau, friends, and colleagues. You may have noticed that some extended whānau members hung tough at the start and then dropped away as the journey went on. Colleagues and friends who were attentive at the beginning may now behave as if everything is ok.

You and your immediate whānau are working hard to get back on track with the 'new normal'. People outside don’t always understand that this process can go on for some time and is not over for you. The lack of comprehension can be interpreted as they don't care and so some distance or resentment in relationships can happen. Give friends and whānau time to adjust and explain to them that their support is still needed and appreciated.

What can help: talking to other mātua / parents and caregivers of serious illness survivors

Meeting with others who know how it is and have shared a similar experience can be really helpful. You can gather tips, ideas and strategies that might help in your own situation.