Communicating with school during cancer treatment

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Keeping in contact with your school and during cancer treatment is important. Find out how you can communicate with your school, what you should tell them and what to expect when returning to class.

Key points

  • Telling your teachers and other school staff about your treatment can be helpful since you will be missing a lot of school and they will need to know when you will be away and can help you keep up with schoolwork.
  • Going to school when possible during cancer treatment can help you to feel normal and stay connected with friends.
  • You can work with your health-care team to make going back to school easier for you.
  • Your learning needs and abilities may be affected by your cancer treatment; your health-care team and your school can help support you.

It is important to communicate with your school. Let them know you have cancer, how it is being treated, and how it could affect your schooling. This can be done through meetings with your teachers and school staff, by written notes or by email.

Your parents may need to communicate with your teachers about your cancer too. Parents often take the lead in connecting with schools, but teachers want to hear from you too.

Do I need to tell my teachers about my cancer?

Telling your school and your teachers about your cancer can help make your life easier for the following reasons.

  • You may be missing a lot of school for appointments, for treatments and on the days when you aren’t feeling well. The school will need to know when you’ll be away.
  • It is important to keep up with schoolwork during your cancer treatment, so you may need to ask your teachers to give you work that you can do at home or while you are in the hospital. You may need to adjust how much school work you can do during your treatment, and you may need to ask for help in picking out the work that needs to get done first.
  • If you are at the hospital for a long time, the teacher at the hospital can contact your teacher from school to plan together how they can best help you with your school work.
  • Your treatment may affect your learning abilities for a while, and you may have new learning needs. Your teachers can help you access available services to meet these new needs. For example, they may provide extra one-on-one time to review missed work, or you may be able to take your tests in a different format or have more time to do them.
  • Depending on the frequency of your treatment and how you feel, you may decide to drop some courses to work with a smaller course load, or you may decide to drop a term. It is important to speak with your teacher or an academic advisor about this. Having to drop classes can be disappointing. Remind yourself that, right now, regaining your health is your first priority.

Your treatment centre works closely with schools and families so that you get the support you need in order to get well and to continue with the activities you enjoy when you feel well enough to do them.

If you don't want your school or your teachers to tell any of your classmates that you have cancer, let them know. They will respect your wishes for privacy.

How can I stay involved in my school?

Going to school as much as possible through your cancer experience, even if only for special events, can help your life seem a little more normal and can help you stay connected with friends.

Sometimes your health-care team may say that it is not safe for you to go to school because of the effects of treatment on your body. For example, when your treatments affect your immune system, you are more likely to get sick when you are around other people, especially in a place like a school.

Ask your child-life specialist or social worker to help you find ways to stay in touch with your friends and connected to your school in the meantime.

How can I make returning to school easier?

Many young people look forward to returning to life at school as soon as possible after treatment and during times in their treatment when they are feeling well enough. But after being away, you might feel a little nervous or self-conscious.

It can help if people at school know what to expect. You can let them know yourself, if you’re comfortable, or it might be easier if someone else talks to your classmates first. That way, they have the opportunity to learn a little about cancer and how to communicate with you.

Your health-care team can help make going back to school on a regular basis easier for you. Some kids feel strongly that they do not want a lot of people knowing what they have gone through. It is OK to be private, as long as you get the help you need to get back on track.

What if the effects of cancer make school work more difficult?

You might find you have difficulties at school because of the cancer or your treatment. Your health-care team will help you communicate your learning needs when you are ready to go back to school.

It is important that you talk to a teacher or guidance counselor about any difficulties you are having at school. They can help you access supports that your school has available to you or change your schedule to meet your needs. For example, you can get more time to work on projects and write exams so that you are assessed for what you know and not for how quickly you are able to work. This is especially important if you are in grade 11 or 12, since it could affect your final grades and admission into college and university.

Individual Education Plan

Depending on how your cancer and its treatment affect you, you might need to have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place. An IEP is a written plan describing the special education program and/or services that you might need at school. Many young people with cancer have an IEP. It’s a good way of communicating your needs to the school.

Either your parents or your teacher can request that an IEP be developed for you. The IEP is written with input from your teacher, your school’s principal and resource teacher, you, your parents and any other specialists who help with your cancer treatment.

The IEP identifies what changes are needed for your grade level and subjects or courses (for example gym class). It will also outline any accommodations and special education services needed to assist you in your learning. Here are some examples of accommodations that might make it easier for you at school.

  • Having extra time to complete classroom assignments.
  • Being able to complete tasks or present information in other ways such as through recorded answers, demonstrations, dramatizations, role play, oral (spoken) exams—having someone read the questions to you.
  • Recording lessons so you can review them later, having handouts of notes, or getting photocopies of the teacher’s notes.
  • Getting a variety of learning tools, such as special computers, to make it easier for you to complete your assignments.
  • Having an extra set of books so you don’t need to carry them to and from school, or having a scribe—a person who writes for you when you can’t.
  • Using special equipment to help make getting around school easier.
  • Having the option to leave the classroom if you feel overwhelmed or if you need a quiet place to do your work.

Find out what kind of support is available to help you be successful at school.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019