When your child is diagnosed with cancer

What is Cancer?
Cancer occurs when cells that are not normal grow and spread rapidly. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells continue to grow and divide uncontrollably and don’t die when they are intended to. Cancer cells cluster together to form tumours. When a tumour grows, it becomes a lump of cancer cells that can terminate the normal cells around the tumour and thereby impair the normal tissues in the body. Cancer spreads when cancer cells break away from the original tumour and go to other locations in the body where they can continue to grow and develop new tumours.

My child has been diagnosed
Physical activity can improve a cancer patient’s quality of life. It can help to speed up recovery after treatment by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, weakness and fatigue while improving mobility. Cancer patients’ emotional stability is essential. This can be strengthened through caregiver support, support group participation and counselling. In order to help reduce a cancer patient’s fatigue and weakness appropriate nutritional guidance is necessary.

It is important for children to return to school as soon as they can after they have been diagnosed with cancer, because school is a source of fun and friendship.

How should kids with cancer be supported in class?
It is important to keep the school informed while your child is out of school. As far as possible, your child should keep up with school work, even while in the hospital or at home before going back to school. This can give them hope and a sense of purpose. The routine could really help them cope.

Before a child returns to school, the caregiver needs to engage with the child’s teachers and principal about the child’s diagnosis and treatment plan.

Also, compile a list pertaining to:

  • Any medicines the child will need to take and how to administer them
  • Special devices the child will use and how to use them
  • What problems to vigilant for and report to you
  • Any special precautions that need to be taken or information you need to know, for instance, if a fellow student develops chicken pox or some other illness that might be a problem for your child
  • Emergency management of potential problems
  • Activities that your child cannot participate in and who to call with questions and emergency contact information

After cancer, children often need help with learning that they did not need before and the school will need to be made aware of this. This could include special equipment, using audio books or getting help with certain physical activities.

Schools may need to accommodate a child’s physical needs after cancer treatment. For instance, if fatigue and/or weakness make it too hard for them to carry books, the child may need two sets of books - one for home and one for school. Some children may need to be excused from particular physical education activities, may require brief rest periods or shorter school days, permission to drink water and have snacks during the day and long-term bathroom breaks. Remember that these accommodations can be applied for during exams as well. Talk to your school about the process.

How does Cancer affect education in SA?
When students and teachers encounter a student with cancer they often experience shock, fear and distress. Some do not know how to react and often feel embarrassed. Relationships between teachers and the child and the child and their friends can be different. Most friends and teachers will generally provide support, while some will feel uncomfortable and rather avoid the child. Talking to your child’s class and teachers might help them to feel more comfortable about it. Allow them to ask questions and answer to the best of your knowledge to help prepare them for your child’s return.

Does Cancer pose a threat for other kids in class?
Cancer is not contagious. An individual cannot contract cancer from another individual. Cancer is not caused by germs, like colds and the flu.

You might also want to read about cancer and prevention.