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Keeping Your Child Healthy During Cancer Remission
What Is Remission?
Remission is a period of time when cancer is under control. Remission can be:
- "partial," which means the cancer is responding well to treatment
- "complete," which means the cancer is no longer detectable by doctors' tests
- "cured," which is when cancer has been in complete remission for several years
Kids in remission are likely to feel better, eat better, and have more energy. Emotionally, kids and their families feel more relaxed and begin to enjoy life more.
What Follow-Up Care Should My Child Have?
Your child's will recommend a schedule of follow-up care that might include the doctor doing exams, blood tests, and imaging tests. Stick to this schedule, even if your child seems perfectly well and has no symptoms whatsoever. This careful monitoring is the best way to find out about and treat any possible problems — whether related to the cancer or the late effects of treatment — as early as possible.
As kids get older and start to manage their own medical care, provide them with all of their medical records so that they can continue their scheduled follow-up visits.
How Can I Stay Connected With My Child's Health?
Ask your child to tell you whenever he or she isn't feeling well or something just doesn't seem right.
Many kids in remission often wait to tell their parents if they're not feeling well, for fear that the cancer has come back. Reassure your child that most kids in remission stay that way and are eventually cured of the cancer. Like everyone else, they're likely to get colds and bouts of sickness from time to time, but if the illness is something more than that, it's best to see a doctor early on.
Why Is Health Eating Important?
Now that your child's appetite is coming back and many of the unpleasant side effects of treatment are easing, it's important to make healthy eating a priority. A well-balanced diet can help your child regain strength and repair the tissue damage caused by chemotherapy, radiation, or both.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, of all kinds and colors.
- Select high-quality proteins, such as lean meats, fish, nuts, and eggs.
- Choose foods rich in fiber, like whole-wheat pastas, breads, cereals, and rice.
- Cut down on fat by switching to low-fat milk and yogurt, and by baking, broiling, or grilling foods instead of frying them.
- Avoid processed foods, which can be loaded with salt, fat, and chemical preservatives.
- Offer plenty of water and keep soda to a minimum.
If you're unsure about where to start, ask your doctor to put you in touch with a dietitian who can help you develop a family meal plan that works for everyone.
Can My Child Exercise?
Your child can exercise, but may have to take it slowly at first. It's a good idea to start with 20 or 30 minutes of exercise each day and work up to the goal of 60 minutes at least 5 days a week. (Strength training and flexibility training are great to include in these workouts.)
When your child is feeling better, ask the doctor if and when your child can return to any sports played before the cancer diagnosis.
Is Sun Exposure Safe?
It's OK to be in the sun for short periods — at the right times and with the right protection. Whenever out in the sun, your child should use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Tanning beds must be avoided as they can cause skin damage that can eventually lead to cancer.
For older kids, it's particularly important that they learn how to check their own skin for any new growths or moles that look different in color, shape, or size.
How Can We Stay Positive?
Even after cancer, most kids can return to their friends and activities, some even happier than before because they realize how the things we take for granted can often change in an instant.
Sometimes the fear of the cancer coming back may creep into your or your child's thoughts. Having this concern is not unusual. If you find it happening, try positive imagery, deep breathing and other helpful tools you've learned. Remember that you and your family got through the all of the treatment and you're moving ahead.
If you or your child are struggling with worry, ask your health care team about getting help from a counselor.
Even though you can't predict the future, you can still make the here and now the best it can be for your child.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.