Well, this is a whole new world from a different viewpoint. It’s that time of year when teachers are filing away their information and data for their current classes to make way for the profiles of their new children. For me, this has always been a cathartic time of year; sentimental about those students who will be moving on and excited about those who I will be teaching. Teachers everywhere are having meeting after meeting at the moment, transferring valuable information about the new cohort. There will be spreadsheets galore of information about cognition and learning, sensory and/or physical needs, social, emotional and mental health and the child’s ability to communicate and interact. Even if your child is progressing well, without any hitches, they will still be a subject of discussion to ensure that your child gets the best start in the new academic year.
It maybe that you have a child in your class who has had cancer or maybe their brother or sister has. You may be a SENDCo in a school who is looking to see what adjustments might need to be made for a new child starting in September.
This is an insider’s view of what a child and their family might have gone through if there has been a cancer diagnosis. It is by no means comprehensive and only relates to my child who, at the age of 10, has a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. In my child’s short life, he has experienced the following:
- Unplanned and forced separation from one/both parents and siblings
- Pain following surgery and procedures
- A portacath inserted in his body
- Anxiety relating to medical procedures and appointments
- Extreme fatigue, tiredness and sickness because of the chemotherapy
- Significantly reduced mobility
- Emotional and mood changes because of medication
- Significant changes in appearance leading to poor self-image and low-confidence
- Emergency admissions to hospital because of infection
- Restricted and controlled diet
- Loss of dignity and control
- Isolation from family and peers
- Over-exposure to clinical and medical environments
- Extensive adult company
- Regular temperature checks and medication at home
- Fear and distrust of adults
- Resignation and disappointment from missing social events/holidays/sporting events
Whilst these consequences relate to a child with cancer, they also significantly affect the siblings. If you have a child in your class whose sibling has had a cancer diagnosis, please bear the above in mind. They may appear well-adjusted and coping well but they have witnessed their much-loved brother or sister experience possibly all of the above and more. They may have watched their sibling sleep for days because of the chemotherapy, they may have seen their hair fall out or they may have run for the sick bowl to try to save his/her’s dignity. No matter what their age they have probably seen their parents cry for the first time, felt frustration when their sibling gets another gift/treat and felt disappointment when their sibling and parents have to spend another night at hospital. There is the uncertainty of who will collect them from school, cancelled plans because of risk of infection or guilt as they carry on with their everyday life. Despite this, they do not say a word as they know their siblings life is far tougher; the siblings are quite often the unsung heroes.
As for the parents, they have tried to keep their family glued together and ticking along whilst all of the above is happening. So, if they appear distracted or apathetic, any of the above could be at the fore-front of their mind. At some point their child has been so sick they have been too scared to look to the future. Their priorities have probably changed since their child was diagnosed; life looks a bit different now. Yes, they are going to be over-protective and insistent that you know about their child’s illness because they have suffered so much already. They will want to protect their offspring; this is the primary function of a parent.
I hope this comes across as I intended ~ I merely want to share my experience of cancer and my passion of education with the hope it will help others. Having a child with cancer is tough for the whole family; school should be a sanctuary and safe place for them to laugh, explore and grow. I am extremely fortunate and proud that our children have a learning environment like this; one which has an abundance of support, empathy and understanding to enable all three of our children to thrive and succeed.
Here’s a big thank you to all hero teachers and support staff; I hope you have a fabulous and well-deserved break.