Just for Teens - Cancer and School

February 27, 2012
Download MP3 (3.61 MB/3:57)

How teenagers with cancer can balance school and treatment.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors who care for people with cancer.

Today we’ll discuss how teenagers with cancer can balance school and treatment.

When you’re dealing with cancer, you may be concerned about how you will handle school at the same time. It may be helpful to know that there are some steps you and your parents can take to make this process as smooth as possible. This includes talking with school staff, keeping up with schoolwork as much as you can, and staying connected with your school and classmates.

First, it’s important for you and your parents to talk with your guidance counselor, teachers, and other school staff on an ongoing basis about your needs during this time, including possible absences or your specific assignments. The hospital where you’re being treated may have an educational coordinator or social worker who can help you do this. And, talk with your doctor to find out how long you might be away from school.

Now, let’s look at several ways you can keep up with your schoolwork during cancer treatment. If you know you are going to miss class, you can ask a friend to take notes for you, or ask your teachers if you can photocopy their notes, record classes, or get assignments by e-mail. If you need to, you can also ask for less homework or focus only on core classes, like math and English. And, if you need extra help, consider a tutor or hospital teacher to help you with your work.

Try not to feel upset or embarrassed if you need extra help at school. Your health comes first right now, and you might have trouble concentrating or miss school for appointments or treatment. Tell the people at school that you’re doing your best to keep up and you appreciate their help.

In addition to talking with your teachers often, it’s also helpful to keep in touch with your classmates and friends at school.

When your classmates first learn about your diagnosis, they will have different reactions. For instance, they may have questions if you have missed school or temporarily lost your hair.

Because of this curiosity, it may be useful for your parents, teacher, or guidance counselor to talk with your class about your cancer and treatment.  Or, you may want to talk with your class yourself. If you do, plan what you will say ahead of time, and have an adult there to help with questions.

Also, decide beforehand how much information you want your classmates to know. If someone asks a question you don’t want to answer, it’s okay to say, “I’d rather not talk about that.” Any information you give will help your classmates understand your situation. Most people simply want to understand and help in some way.

If you’re absent from school, call, text, and e-mail your friends to stay in touch. When you can, visit with them, and go to school events like concerts, plays, and games. This will help you feel involved in your school during treatment and make an easier transition back to school full-time when you’re ready.

Remember that it’s always okay to ask for help with school or anything else on your mind. Your family, teachers, doctors, and friends all want to help.

For more information on dealing with cancer as a teenager, talk with your doctor or visit www.cancer.net. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net Podcast. Cancer.Net is supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which is working to create a world free from the fear of cancer by funding breakthrough research, sharing knowledge with physicians and patients worldwide, and supporting initiatives to ensure that all people have access to high-quality cancer care. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net Podcast.