Cancer Care

Tips for managing school or university during treatment

Jul 29, 2022 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Avril de Beer shares tips for both parent and child for managing school or university during treatment.


Teenagers and young adults have left childhood behind, but they are not fully matured adults. At this stage of their lives, they are striving for autonomy from their parents while making plans for their future. Being diagnosed with cancer is an overwhelming experience; it may feel as if your entire world has been turned upside down. Continuing with schoolwork or university studies can help keep a sense of normalcy during this gruelling time.

Taking action: obtaining a treatment plan

First things first, discuss your teenager or young adult’s diagnosis and treatment plan with the treating physician who will be able to provide you with a letter for school or university in which the diagnosis and treatment plan are explained. When discussing the treatment plan with the medical team, the following questions are important:

  • How long will the treatment last?
  • To what extent will the treatment  affect concentration, memory, and energy levels?
  • When will it be possible to return to school or university?
  • What are the recommendations as far as school or university attendance and workload are concerned?

Meeting the school principal or head of department at university

Contact the school principal or the relevant head of department to arrange a meeting in person or via a video conferencing platform to discuss the doctor’s letter explaining the treatment plan. 

The following matters need to be discussed:

  • Online support from teachers or lecturers during treatment.
  • Time off for doctors’ appointments and treatment.
  • Extra time for the submission of assignments.
  • Postponement of year-end or university examinations.

Keeping in touch with school or university friends

Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant, can suppress or weaken the immune system. 

A weakened immune system can’t fight off viruses and bacteria very well. It’s for this reason that teenagers or young adults may not be allowed to go to school or university or visit their friends during certain periods of their treatment. 

At this stage of their lives, teenagers or young adults often have closer relationships with their friends than with their families. It’s therefore vital to help them keep in touch with their friends. Encourage your teenager or young adult to connect with their friends through phone calls, video chats, text messages, online gaming, or social media. If you live close to the hospital or treatment centre, ask the medical team if friends are allowed to visit.

Parental involvement

Miss M was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2019 when she was 15 years old. When she was diagnosed, her parents made an appointment to see the school principal, who was eager to assist them. Miss M’s parents, the school principal and her subject teachers formed a WhatsApp group which they used to communicate and discuss important information. 

Miss M’s boyfriend helped by taking homework to her when she was at home.

Miss M received treatment in an isolation ward where she often had to stay for more than a month at a time. After they had received Miss M’s diagnosis and treatment plan from the treating physician, Miss M’s mother relayed the information to her employer. She arranged with her employer to work remotely from hospital so that she could be with her daughter to support her during treatment.

Challenges

It’s not always possible to continue your studies while receiving cancer treatment. Some treatments, such as stem cell transplants, are very intensive. They take place over a period of nine to 12 months and may make you too ill to continue your studies in the year that you are receiving treatment. Some teenagers or young adults can’t afford laptops and tablets; others may have restricted or no access to wi-fi. It’s important to remember that your health remains your first priority. 

Avril de Beer is a social worker at Alberts Cellular Therapy. As a member of the South African Oncology Social Workers Forum (SAOSWF) and Social Workers in Palliative Care and Oncology (SWIPCO), she is passionate about oncology social work. She also has a private practice in Centurion, Pretoria where she focuses on loss and grief counselling.

MEET THE EXPERT – Avril de Beer


Avril de Beer is a social worker at Alberts Cellular Therapy in Pretoria. She is constantly looking for new ways to connect with patients and to learn more about their unique needs. She also has a private practice in Centurion where she counsels individuals who are experiencing major life changes.


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