Balancing cancer and school may be a concern of yours. In these two “Moving Forward” videos from ASCO and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, learn more about how to handle your schoolwork and stay connected to your classmates from medical experts and young adult survivors.
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Cancer.Net® A Patient Education Series for Young Adults with Cancer
ASCO® American Society of Clinical Oncology
Sonali Smith, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: I think it's really important when you're in school, if you have a diagnosis of cancer, and you have treatments that are planned, that you sit down with your doctor and talk about exactly what to expect in terms of time necessary away from school, what the side effects of therapy are and how they might effect your ability to either concentrate or take tests, and to use that as a starting point. Once you have that information, you will need an ally within your school. Either a counselor or a teacher or a program director that you can sit down and talk with and let them know that you're going through this.
Nita Seibel, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: One of the most important things to remember with your diagnosis of cancer is to try to keep up your daily routine as much as possible, and that includes school. School is important, and if at all possible, even if it means only going to one class a day, it's good to do that because that not only keeps you in social contact, it prevents you from being isolated, but it also gives you your normal routine, which actually is sort of a structure that is a comfort to you because it's so familiar.
Melissa Hudson, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: Generally, most patients can stay involved in academic and work activities and even most recreational activities as long as they're feeling well. However, specific treatments may have side effects in the short terms such as nausea, vomiting or fatigue, low blood counts. During those periods, you will likely have to back off and have more extended rest periods and restricted attendance times at school, which should be a time where you can back off and let your body heal and work with your doctor, social worker, school coordinator if there is one at your center to help them educate the school about the side effects that you're having and with the planned treatment courses, and how restricted or a limited participation can be accomplished in your school schedule. This will enable you to stay connected to your friends, and in cases where maybe your treatment is very intense and you really have to take almost a leave from school or do homebound school, even attendance at recreational activities at school or special events at school is still very important for you to stay connected to your peers.
Dr. Seibel: Probably one of the most important things that you can do would be to talk to your counselor at school to find out what resources are available in the form of tutoring or at-home tutor or working with your individual teachers to make sure you don't get behind. There are numerous ways that this can be approached, but the most important thing is to discuss it with the people who can really help you or coordinate it. You can work with the social workers, and that they can also be the liaison as well, and often times, there's paperwork that needs to be filled out, and your healthcare provider can do that, as well as the social worker.
Dr. Smith: Depending on how comfortable you are with letting your friends know what you're going through, I think it is very helpful to let at least some of your close friends and classmates know what's happening so that they can be there for you, and also so that they don't have questions about what's safe and not safe to talk to you about.
Dr. Hudson: Sometimes there's a lot of fear among the teachers and your classmates about your health issues, and frankly, there may be some misunderstanding about the health issues that you're facing as a cancer patient. Some patients prefer to address the class and share that information. Other patients will have individuals and school programs or social workers address the class or have separate meetings with the teachers to make them aware of those specific health issues and how that may affect your attendance and your performance. Overall, this is really a good thing if it's comfortable for you because it will make everyone more informed and less fearful, and hopefully will help them understand to how they can help you better when you're attending school, and how they can be a resource to you and help you feel less isolated because of your cancer treatment when it takes you away from participating in regular school activities.
Dr. Seibel: You shouldn't feel that you're a burden by asking classmates or friends for help. Actually, they probably want to help you, but they're just afraid not knowing what--physically how you feel or what you want to do. But, certainly, your classmates can, if they're willing to, provide through e-mail assignments or even come over and help you with certain assignments. They can text you. With all the ways that you can keep in touch with colleagues, there are multiple ways that you can maintain these relationships with friends.
Dr. Smith: Having that openness may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but I think in the end it ends up being very rewarding, and you'll be amazed at how people do rally around you to help get you through this.
What You Can Do
- Talk with your doctor about what to expect regarding time away from school
- Reach out to your school’s staff to make a plan to support your needs
- Stay connected with your classmates as much as possible
[Closing and Credits]
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This video series was made possible by a grant from LIVESTRONG to the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
Conquer Cancer Foundation® of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
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© 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology®. All rights reserved
A video series for young adults with cancer
Johnathan Bueno, cancer survivor: My name is Johnathon Bueno, and I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease when I was 14. Like most 14-year-olds, I felt like I could do pretty much anything, and I was completely confident that I could stay in school while I was going through treatment. I didn't care about my hair falling out or any of that stuff [laughter]. I just wanted to be around my friends and feel normal. Things didn't go quite according to plan though. Because of the treatment, my immune system was weak, so I got sick really easily, which meant going to my public high school was basically out of the question. I went to the Board of Education and asked for help. They gave me two tutors and I received two hours of schooling every day at home. It may sound like fun to miss class [laughter] but figuring out how to get through school is just another one of the many issues we face as young adult survivors.
Speaker 2: My life has changed a lot. I was going to school for 4 years, taking 13 hours a semester, working two jobs, hanging out with my friends, going to church, joining organizations, and now I don't do any of that. I haven't been in school for a year.
Speaker 3: Well, I missed almost all of my 7th-grade year, much of my 8th-grade year, and a lot of my 9th and 10th-grade years.
Speaker 4: My treatment was only--it was 3 months on chemo every week, and then off for a month, and then on for another month to do a bone marrow harvest. So I wasn't able to attend classes because I was so sick.
Speaker 5: I love to learn. I love school. And that's why, if I knew I was feeling well, I would go to school.
Speaker 6: I had a little meeting with all my teachers individually the first day of school. And I sort of went to them. And I had a note from the doctor. And I was like, "Listen. I've got cancer. I'm going to be missing some school. Can you be flexible? Great, okay." And I can only imagine what they were thinking when this kid came up to them and said that. And I was just sort of--I wasn't' upset about it. I was just like, "This is what it is. Please be nice."
Speaker 3: I still was behind academically but not as behind as I could have been, given my treatment and my diagnosis.
Speaker 6: My teachers worked with me. My brother was at the same school that I was at, so if he needed to pick up my books or if he needed to pick up my assignments, he would bring that to the hospital. And then my dad, whenever he was around, he would help tutor me if I needed it. And mostly it was just me teaching myself chemistry or math or whatever.
Speaker 7: My physical life changed a lot after I was diagnosed and all through treatment. I wasn't allowed to go to school for a lot of my treatment. And so I was away from my friends, but more than that, it was just about the movement of my body. I didn't physically have the strength to be able to walk down the hall to the bathroom by myself.
Speaker 8: To make it through the day was a good thing without having to rest. And they always said I could use my study hall to go take a nap--and fighting that, never wanting to--never wanting to be different.
Speaker 3: Even though your focus might be on, "I want to live. I don't want to die. This chemo makes me sick," really think about that you want to keep interacting with people your age, both people that are patients and people that aren't patients. People that don't have a life that's only cancer. And you really need to believe that you will have a life beyond cancer that won't be surrounded by doctors or centered with your treatment once you're done with chemo. You really need to understand that you need to maintain whatever social skills you had before you got into this, because you will have a life well beyond this. And your life well beyond this is very important [laughter].
Johnathan Bueno: If you're dealing with a cancer diagnosis and you're still in school, be smart. Make your treatment the top priority. You can find ways to maintain your relationships without risking getting sick. If you're not at risk of getting sick, then stay in school as much as possible. Ask for a little extra time to get to class, or even think about using a wheelchair. Whatever it takes. Just feeling normal by being in school will make a big difference emotionally. Everybody I talked to during my treatment, from social workers to friends and family to the Board of Education, really went out of their way to help me out. Getting the support I needed with school was one less thing I had to worry about. The only way to get what you want is to ask. So speak up and be heard.
What you can do:
- Understand your school’s policy
- Illness often leads to shifts in timelines, so recalculate yours and make plans
Johnathan Bueno: If you are dealing with school-related issues, it is important that you talk to your doctor or contact these cancer-related organizations for more information.
A video series for young adults with cancer
Thank you to all of the cancer survivors who participated in this video. Footage was pulled from more than 200 cancer survivor interviews conducted by the LIVESTRONG Foundation since 2003.
This video was supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number U58/CCU6230066-04 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.