If cancer comes back: dealing with the impact of relapse

You’ve been through it all – being diagnosed, treated and finally leaving hospital life behind. But here’s cancer, back in your life again.

Being told that you’ve relapsed can hit you hard, especially as you might have just been getting back to normal. We’re here with some tips and advice from those who’ve been there. The quotes below are from young people who have been through relapse and have shared their stories.

Taking your mind off it

Getting through the day to day can be draining, but it can help to find other things to focus on.

The day before I went in for my high dose chemo and stem cell transplant, I finally taught myself to crochet. I would just crochet granny squares to make into a blanket and while I was thinking about that, I couldn’t think about anything else and couldn’t worry or panic or anything. It also gave me a sense of achievement while sitting in a hospital bed. I crochet everyday still and have set up a little business selling my stuff, and all of this has come from teaching myself in hospital!

Olivia
Olivia, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

I think one of the best things I did was return to my normal life in between the initial finding and my first course of treatment. I found that going back to school gave me something to focus on other than the bad news and provided a much-needed distraction. This did not mean I miraculously was no longer upset about the news, but meant that for the majority of the day I was distracted from thinking about my illness.

Sara
Sara, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

TV helps – like majorly helps, I used to joke that I could tell the time based on what show was on. It’s an easy escape and one I would advise everyone to take. The internet is also a good thing to have when you go through relapse – it’s your access to the outside, it can take you anywhere and tell you anything all without having to leave your hospital bed.

Caoimhe
Caoimhe, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

I found podcasts and audiobooks were the things that made it most bearable and took my mind off my thoughts the most. Also, word searches were good when I was feeling slightly better and wanted something to ‘do’, but still wasn’t able to concentrate on anything like reading or films.

Anna
Anna, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

Talk it out

Speaking about your feelings, worries and concerns can help relieve some of the pressure.

Find someone to talk to so you don’t internalise all your emotions and begin to struggle mentally. Either speak to a close friend, family member, or even a counsellor or psychologist if you don’t feel comfortable with talking to those close to you.

Sara
Sara, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, colleagues: all of them can be of great support because you will need support – there’s no point trying to be brave and stoic and not calling on people.

Caoimhe
Caoimhe, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

From me to you

We asked young people who’ve been through relapse to share some advice for those who might have just got the news.

I would say just take one day at a time. I used to look at the sun going down each day and think "I’ve made it through another day, that’s another day less of this and another day closer to finishing”.

Olivia
Olivia, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

Don’t beat yourself up about the relapse, and be kind to yourself and your emotions. Relapse is psychologically so draining, because not only is it something most people already fear, but you already have knowledge of the treatments and side effects so you know what to expect more, making the entire prospect even more daunting.

Sara
Sara, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

Try to hold on to the weird silver linings – you’ve been down this road before, it is not unknown – you know how to handle it how to get through it. Cancer is tough and it’s just as tough the second time, but you’re not alone – I promise.

Caoimhe
Caoimhe, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

It’s important to let yourself feel whatever you feel - there is no right or wrong way to feel.

Anna
Anna, a young person, who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse.

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