School is where children learn about the world and how to socialize with others. Both are essential to children’s development. School is also a place where people care about your children and help them to be successful both as learners and as people. Next to home, school is the most important place in a child’s life.
News of a child’s diagnosis with cancer travels fast within a community. It is critical that your child’s school receives accurate information as soon as possible, either from you or from someone you have asked to contact them. You also might consider contacting the schools of your other children or asking a school administrator to do this for you.
We have included a sample letter that you might use. This will make teachers and counselors aware of what is happening in your family so they can provide support for all of your children. Unfortunately, even when you do provide information to the school, rumors still occur. We believe keeping channels of communication open and maintaining regular contact throughout your child’s treatment can minimize this potential problem.
Families have choices about what and how much information they share. Children often tell us that they do not want to be seen as different and are concerned about what their friends will say or how they will react if they know they have cancer. They want the cancer to be a secret. However, news of a significant, rare, and dramatic event like a child receiving a diagnosis of cancer typically spreads across a community within days. Even children in elementary school are very aware when a classmate is ill. They may not know exactly what is wrong, but they sense that something worrisome is happening. We encourage parents and school professionals to share information about the child’s disease and treatment rather than allowing rumors, which are likely to be highly inaccurate, to spread. In the long run, honest information is most likely to support your child’s adjustment to school.
For similar reasons, we encourage families to provide information to schools about the child’s healthy siblings. By letting each of the siblings’ schools know what is happening, parents can ask for help in early identification of any academic or social problems the sibling may experience.
Staying in Touch During Treatment
School personnel want to know what they can do and how classmates can be helpful. In the first few days or weeks after diagnosis, you may not be able to answer those questions specifically. However, from the very first day, it would be good for your child to hear from friends and classmates. Many parents suggest that they send cards, pictures or drawings that can be put up on the hospital room wall. Friends and classmates should also be encouraged to use texting or other electronic devices to deliver messages of support and to keep your child up-to-date on the latest happenings. These suggestions let your child know that others are thinking about him or her while also helping satisfy friends’ and classmates’ desire to “do something.”
As testing and treatment become more routine, parents begin to have a fairly good idea of their child’s schedule. They often encourage phone calls or, if possible, video phone calls so that their child and his or her friends can both talk to and see each other. Most children and adolescents have no idea what being in the hospital means and may have heard grim stories about hair loss, surgery, and disfigurement. Children’s fantasies are almost always worse than reality. Seeing and talking together reassures friends and classmates that the child with cancer is still the same person they remember.