Cancer and Education 

Summary: Education is an important aspect of life and falling too far behind can set someone back for years or blow their life’s plans out of the water. When you are going through cancer treatment, school might become too complicated or stressful to handle with the side effects and daily life with cancer. There are many options for those who are finding it hard to complete their schooling. Simply reach out to your school administration office for options and further support. Here you can learn how to stay in touch with classmates, stay connected, and stay on track with coursework.

Once you have obtained your cancer diagnosis, one of your main concerns may be how to handle school for yourself, your family member, or your child. With treatment, side effects and down time, this can greatly affect the ability to get a quality education. You may find yourself or your child needing to take time off of school for treatments, and then for the rough days of side effects. Others may barely suffer and be able to attend school regularly, minus any hospital stays.

How to Talk to the School Staff

It is very important that you are open and honest about your cancer and the treatment you are enduring, and how it may affect you or your child’s ability to attend school. Contacting the school as soon as possible after diagnosis will help to ensure you can continue progression and not be held back or miss out on important aspects of class. Depending on the school and their policies, you may need to also meet with a guidance counselor, principal, school nurse and your teachers to discuss some of the following topics before any long absence:

  • Attendance, since you may need to miss days or classes for treatment and appointments.
  • Permission to wear a hat or scarf in school if treatment causes your hair to fall out and you prefer to keep your head covered.
  • Activities that you may not be able to participate in, such as gym class or high-energy classes or sports.
  • The possibility of having fewer classes or working on some of your coursework at home.

Some hospitals, especially children’s hospitals, have educational coordinators and special staff who can help talk to your school about your diagnosis and educational needs. Always get as much information from your doctors about you or your child’s cancer as you can, as this will help the school to better understand the situation.

How to Stay Involved with the School and Education

There will be days, weeks maybe, when you cannot muster the energy for school, or anything else. You may find that you or your child is missing days of school at a time with no choice. If you attempt to stay involved and up to date with the happenings in your school building, system and district, it will help you to feel connected and help ease you back into the routines when you return. Here are some suggestions on how to stay involved:

  • Keep in touch with your friends and classmates online, through texting, instant messaging, video chats, e-mail, phone calls, or visits.
  • Ask a friend to take notes for you if you need to miss a class. Ask your child’s friends to gather their work and any notes for them.
  • Ask teachers if you can photocopy their notes, record their class, or reduce your homework load, if possible.
  • Consider asking for a reduced class schedule if possible – maybe you can skip a gym class or an elective class and concentrate on core subjects such as math and English.
  • Ask your teachers if they would be willing to e-mail you assignments or send work home with a sibling or friend.
  • Ask your children’s school if they can work from home or arrange a special program.
  • Consider getting a tutor or hospital teacher to help you with your work from home or the hospital.
  • Consider checking in to online schools if your child is struggling to meet attendance requirements and is still fighting against cancer.
  • Try to arrange to attend school for special events that are important to you or your children.

Remember that you and your child’s health have to come first while receiving treatment for cancer and recovering. Side effects from the treatment, such as extreme tiredness, called fatigue, and feeling like you need to throw up may make it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork or to spend a lot of time with friends. Try not to feel embarrassed or upset if you need extra time to complete schoolwork or do not feel like being with your friends. Take the time you need to fight and heal so that you can reclaim your life once more.

Keeping in Touch with Classmates & Friends

Your classmates and friends will all react to your, or your child’s cancer diagnosis in their own ways. Some of your friends may stand with you during every moment, good and bad, while others may slowly shrink away from the added stress and medical issues because they are unsure how to, or simply cannot, handle it. How some people, like your classmates, react may depend on how much school is missed, if your appearance changes, or if you lose your hair. Here are some tips for talking with your friends and classmates, and help you prepare for their reactions.

  • Ask your child’s teacher to give the class some basic information about the cancer and treatment while they are not there. Or, if you feel comfortable, ask the teachers to arrange a time for you to tell the class about the cancer with your child, if they are up to it.
  • If you decide to tell your classmates yourself, decide what you are going to say; you may want a parent or the school counselor to be there to help answer questions. If you feel you are in control, you will be more comfortable, and the conversation will flow more smoothly.
  • If you decide to have someone else, such as a parent or a counselor do the talking, decide whether you want to be there and how much you want people to know.
  • If you are going to be away from school for a long time, consider visiting for a couple of half-days or for a few hours before going back full-time. You can also ask a friend or two to meet you outside school on your first few days back, so you don’t have to walk in alone.
  • Be prepared to answer questions, but if someone asks you something you do not want to answer, it’s fine to say, “I’d rather not talk about that right now. Thank you.
  • Be prepared for insensitive comments or questions and try not to let them upset you. Not everyone has the ability to empathize with this battle, and some just do not want to.

Any information you can give and feel comfortable doing so can help others better understand your situation. Many people are unaware of how cancer turns lives upside down on every aspect, and every level, of life. Do not forget that you do not have to deal with issues with friends or classmates yourself, especially if it becomes stressful or combative.

How to Keep up with School and Coursework

It’s perfectly normal for your child, or yourself, to want to keep up with their studies and not fall behind. That said, attending school is tiring and takes more energy than you may be aware of. Take it easy, slow down, and do not overdo it. Your health needs to remain your top priority and pushing your body too hard or too fast can mean that your treatment and healing process takes longer than others.

If you feel that your child’s school is harder than it used to be, or that they are pushing too hard to keep up, reach out for help. If you are struggling with your own coursework, talk with your professors to see if you can agree on a schedule that allows you to keep working at your own pace, and continue with the class. Certain cancer treatments make it hard to concentrate, remember things, have a full understanding of what is being discussed, or cause trouble when trying to write or take notes. Some of these issues may be temporary, but some may stick with you or your child long after treatment.

Not everyone will have difficulty with learning or education during and after cancer treatment, but if you notice a difference within yourself or your child, there are many things you can do. Talk openly with your doctors, teachers, and family members about the struggles and triumphs.

If you or your child are struggling with education and maintaining your current classes or schedule, reach out to your educational support staff at your school and discuss options and treatment. By making others aware of your struggles and needs, this will help them to help you better help yourself. Never simply stop attending school without discussing the details with your school administration.

Resources Used:



Reclaiming Intimacy

Back to blog