Social and Emotional Issues During and After Treatment of Childhood Leukemia

Social and emotional issues may come up during and after treatment. Factors such as the child’s age when diagnosed and the extent of treatment can play a role here.

Some children may have emotional or psychological issues that need to be addressed during and after treatment. Depending on their age, they may also have some problems with normal functioning and school work. These can often be overcome with support and encouragement. Doctors and other members of the health care team can also often recommend special support programs and services to help children after treatment.

Many experts recommend that school-aged patients attend school as much as possible. This can help them maintain a sense of daily routine and keep their friends informed about what is happening.

Friends can be a great source of support, but patients and parents should know that some people have misunderstandings and fears about cancer. Some cancer centers have school re-entry programs that can help in these situations. In these programs, health educators visit the school and tell students about the diagnosis, treatment, and changes that the cancer patient may go through. They also answer any questions from teachers and classmates. (For more information, see Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Returning to School.)

Centers that treat many patients with leukemia may have programs to introduce new patients and their families to others who have finished their treatment. This can give them an idea of what to expect during and after treatment, which can be very important.

Parents and other family members can also be affected, both emotionally and in other ways. Some common family concerns during treatment include financial stresses, traveling to and staying near the cancer center, the possible loss of a job, and the need for home schooling. Social workers and other professionals at cancer centers can help families sort through these issues.

During treatment, children and their families tend to focus on the daily aspects of getting through it and beating the leukemia. But once treatment is finished, a number of emotional concerns can arise. Some of these might last a long time and can include:

  • Dealing with physical changes that can result from the treatment
  • Worries about the leukemia returning or new health problems developing
  • Feelings of resentment for having had leukemia or having to go through treatment when others do not
  • Concerns about being treated differently or discriminated against (by friends, classmates, coworkers, employers, etc.)
  • Concerns about dating, marrying, and having a family later in life

No one chooses to have leukemia, but for many childhood leukemia survivors, the experience can eventually be positive, helping to establish strong self-values. Other survivors may have a harder time recovering, adjusting to life after cancer, and moving on. It’s normal to have some anxiety or other emotional reactions after treatment, but feeling overly worried, depressed, or angry can affect many aspects of a young person’s growth. It can get in the way of relationships, school, work, and other aspects of life. With support from family, friends, other survivors, mental health professionals, and others, many people who have survived cancer can thrive in spite of the challenges they’ve had to face.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: April 17, 2015 Last Revised: February 3, 2016

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