Back to School While Battling Cancer

Back to School While Battling Cancer

Learn About Alternative Options
Red apple on books

As summer vacation nears its end, it is time for students to return to school. However, this transition can be challenging, especially for children battling cancer. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning provided flexibility for children battling cancer, allowing them to attend class from the comfort of their homes or hospital rooms. However, many schools are resuming in-person learning. This means rethinking how to continue your child’s education. With trips to the hospital and needing sufficient time to rest, continuing your child’s education in the classroom may not be as easily manageable as before. For children who are hospitalized, it can be challenging to have a sense of normalcy in terms of school. Since many children battling cancer spend a significant amount of time in hospitals, adjusting to the social environment of returning to school can be difficult. Your child may also have medical needs that are challenging to accommodate in a traditional campus environment. To address these challenges, parents can explore alternatives to in-person school or find solutions to best support their child’s academic journey.

Alternatives to In-Person Learning

There are alternatives to returning to in-person learning for children who still physically can’t return to school.

  • IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)– An IEP or 504 plan is a program designed by parents and teachers to meet the individualized needs of the student best. Schools often offer these programs at no additional cost. The plan sets specific goals for the students while also providing learning accommodations. It can and usually does continue after treatment ends, and your child returns to school full-time. Be sure to schedule a reassessment once your child returns full-time.
  • Homeschooling– Children who are having trouble returning to school, whether for medical or social reasons, can start by homeschooling. Parents can create a more flexible schedule and spend more quality time with their children.
  • Private Tutor– Parents can also hire a private tutor to support their child’s academics. Private tutors hold expertise in certain subject areas and have the advantage of personalized and flexible learning as opposed to traditional schools. However, hiring a private tutor can be expensive and require more financial support.
  • Online Classes– Students can attend online classes anywhere as long as they have a computer and internet access. With online learning, students can enjoy the benefits of being able to revisit learning material and the flexibility to complete assignments in their own time.
Back to School written in chalk

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi:

Returning to the School Campus

With proper planning, returning to school can be smooth. Here are some precautions to ensure your child’s best possible learning experience:

  • Meet with the principal, counselors, school nurse, and teachers to let them know what to expect and when your child might be returning full-time. There may be forms that need to be filled out. Let them know about any medicine or health equipment your child has and how to handle emergencies or problems.
  • Your child may not have the energy for a long day of school. Help them build up their stamina leading up to the start of the school year. Take walks and see what your child can and can’t do. They may also need to be excused from certain physical activities and allowed more time on assessments.
  • It is also normal for your child to be nervous about returning to school, and there may be feelings of hesitation. Make sure to understand the reasons behind them. Consider contacting your child’s healthcare team, teachers, psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, or school counselors for guidance. Make sure school administrators and teachers know that your child needs to be treated like everyone else, except for special needs. Make sure special needs are not exaggerated or highlighted to embarrass the student.
  • If your child is having trouble with the social aspect of returning to school, you can prepare them by letting them know that the other students may not be familiar with cancer and have a lot of questions. Give them examples of how to respond to questions they feel uncomfortable answering and have teachers and nurses there to support them. You may want to take the time and invite classmates over to your home so they can have more close and friendly interactions with fun activities that don’t require a lot of physical endurance on the part of your child.
  • There is an excellent additional resource for information about returning to school as a cancer patient or survivor from the American Cancer Society:
Have You or Your Child Recently Been Diagnosed with Cancer?

Here to Serve is the only national nonprofit offering wrap-around services to navigate the personal side of the cancer journey. You have doctors and hospitals who can help with the medical treatments, but where do you get help with finances, household needs, and other resources you may not be aware of? Here to serve offers you a Family Care Coordinator and a customized online platform for friends and family to join in signing up to help with a multitude of tasks. They also offer hard-to-find resources for just about anything you may need. You only need to ask your Family Care Coordinator! If you are a family with children impacted by cancer, please contact Here to Serve. Our team is here to help you navigate these challenging times and provide support. Please click the Get Help button on our homepage. Our team wishes you a joyous end of summer and an exciting new school year!

By Erin Li