Healthy living after treatment
Now that your child is off treatment and is in the ‘follow-up’ phase, the aim is to help your child stay as healthy as possible and reach their full potential.
The effects of childhood cancer and treatment on appetite and physical activity are different for each child. If your child experienced problems with nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight during treatment, you may have given them food supplements and been encouraged to give them calorific foods. On the other hand some children being treated for leukaemia may have gained a lot of weight during treatment.
Now that treatment is completed, it is a good time to look at your child’s diet, to ensure it’s healthy, and their physical activity. Most children will begin to put on weight once treatment is finished, or in the case of leukaemia, lose it when they stop taking steroids. As a parent this will be very reassuring to see. However, in order for them to maintain a healthy body in the future, returning to a healthy diet and physical activity is very important. These choices can have a positive effect on your child’s health for many years to come.
A good diet and physical activity will have many benefits for children who have had treatment for cancer. These include:
- helping to heal tissues and organs that have been damaged by the cancer and treatment,
- building up your child’s strength and stamina,
- reducing the risk of developing certain types of adult cancers and other diseases in adult life,
- reducing feelings of stress and increasing feelings of well-being.
A balanced healthy diet is based on the five commonly accepted food groups which are:
- bread, cereals and potatoes,
- fruit and vegetables,
- milk and dairy,
- meat, fish, pulses and nuts,
- foods containing fat, and food and drinks containing sugar. (Foods in this fifth group are not essential to a healthy diet).
What about vitamin supplements?
Vitamin supplements are not a replacement for good eating habits. Encouraging your child to have a variety of foods from the first four groups of food every day will help ensure they have the wide range of nutrients and vitamins their bodies need to remain healthy and function properly.
What about exercise and physical activity?
Children and adolescents should be encouraged to try to fit some physical activity into their daily routine. It is important to combine healthy eating with physical exercise.
In general, a healthy lifestyle includes: not smoking; eating a low fat, high fibre diet; exercising regularly and avoiding an excessive alcohol intake.
Protect children from sunburn using cover-up clothing and a high factor sunscreen.
What happens when my child reaches 18?
All children who complete their treatment for cancer need to attend follow-up clinics regularly in order to identify, assess and treat problems that may arise. Some children will have few problems in the follow-up period; others may need more help including both physical and psychological support.
Problems related to cancer treatment that occur or persist when treatment is finished are known as ‘late effects’. Follow-up care will continue well into your child’s adult life.
If your child is very young when they finish treatment, adolescence and adulthood may seem a long way off. However, as adolescence approaches, your child will grow physically and emotionally. They need to be supported in developing as much independence as possible in order for them to be able to make choices about their own healthcare.
What is transition?
In some cancer centres, young adults who were treated for cancer as a child and have been off treatment for over five years, are now having their follow up visits in an adult hospital. The process of helping these young people as they move from the familiarity of the child and family environment of paediatrics to being cared for in an adult hospital clinic, is called ‘transition’.
You can help this process when your child is young by:
- talking to your child to help them gain an understanding of their cancer and the treatment,
- explaining the reasons for them coming to the follow up clinic,
- encouraging your child to ask questions and talk directly to the doctor/nurses.
So they feel ready to move on, they will also be supported by doctors and nurses in clinic:
- in understanding their cancer, treatment and follow up,
- in gaining more independence and starting to make their own decisions,
- by giving them health care advice.
Adolescent and adult long-term follow-up care will vary in each cancer centre. If you require any further information on ‘transition’, your own doctors/nurses will be able to inform you.
The CCLG publication ‘Aftercure’ provides additional useful information.