A call to all teachers – having a child with cancer

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.

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25 thoughts on “A call to all teachers – having a child with cancer

    1. Oh Sophie that’s so encouraging to hear. Thank you for taking the time to comment – sending you love xxx

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  1. Thanks for sharing, I am a parent of a child with Cancer, I’m also a Mum to 8 children, this is exactly how life is for all of us, the 7 siblings are just incredible at supporting their brother, the school is getting better at understanding the effects of Cancer on our family, we are also helping the school and pupils to understand the importance of how life at school for a child with caner is affected, we do this by sharing with them our knowledge and experience as afamily affected by Childhood Cancer. X

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    1. So pleased you like it. The ripple affect on the whole family often goes unseen as we’re all so good at putting on a brave face! Lots of love to you all 💛🎗💛

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  2. I found your blog moving and thought-provoking. Every student should have privacy but often through this concern, all staff who teach the a child affected by cancer are not informed . I feel this is something that many large schools need to get right. Good luck to you and all your family , especially your son.

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  3. I would just like to say, that our son was three years old when he was diagnosed with A.L.L. That was 15 months ago now, your information and content regarding the illness and all those around them is spot on and I would just like to commend you on a well written and informative piece of work that would help someone coming into contact with a child who has either had or still as cancer.

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  4. Thank you for this! I want to share it with the whole world! Our son is 3 and and is currently going through treatment for high risk ALL and we have had to move 2000 miles from our precious home in Missouri to a new place, new home, new school in Washington state. Our daughter was in kindergarten at an amazing school with so much support and love and she will be the new kido going into 1st grade come this September. I truly hope we will gain some support here come the new school year. We are struggling trying to keep her and her brother happy and things as normal as possible. We don’t need donations, we don’t need sympathy, we just need support. Something we truly lack right now. We know nobody and it’s frustrating and puts a whole new stress on us. Thank you for this. I feel like printing it out and sending it to her new school haha. 🙂

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    1. So pleased it might help – its so tough to try to get people to truly understand the highs and lows of ALL. If it helps print it out and give to all the teachers. As a teacher myself I would be so grateful for some inside information rather than the generic publications. I hope you begin to settle soon – such a huge move to make xxx

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  5. I’m laughing reading this as I was the child and I’m sure my sibling would enjoy reading this as an adult now! We joke to this day about the lack of sibling attention!

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  6. Thank you -with a 7 yr old daughter diagnosed on 7 Jan with ALL we are virtually at the same stage as you – as I sat with our (incredibly supportive) head teacher yesterday, it was great to be able to refer to your article which articulated in ‘teacher speak’ some of the things I had been struggling to convey.

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  7. Thank you for putting this out into the world. I too am a teacher and a mother to a child with cancer. My 12 year old was diagnosed with High Risk Pre B Cell ALL in May 2015. Although her pain and scars are visible on the outside, my 10 year old suffered just as much (in a different way of course), but her scars can’t be seen by the naked eye. They are internal. As she began her 4th grade career last fall, I had a heart to heart with her fabulous teachers. I honestly did not care if she learned one thing in fourth grade. I wanted her to feel loved and supported. I needed to know that compassion would be present in the confines of her classroom walls. I just wanted school to be a safe haven for her as only sadness filled our home at the time.
    As my 12 year old returns to school in the fall, my hope for her is the same. Her teachers NEED to know where she has been in order to understand where, and who she is now.
    This also applies to children from many different walks of life, and circumstance.

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    1. Absolutely Carrie. Whilst we need to teach resilience we need to respect and be mindful of their fragility. I hope fourth grade went well for her. Happy Wednesday 😃

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  8. You’ve expressed all of my feelings in this moving but amazing blog, no one will ever truly understand the journey, my son was diagnosed with ALL in 2012 and now a year off treatment, those few years were the most trying if our lives, but thankful we had full support from the school and other avenues, best luck for your future, X

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    1. Thanks Rebecca. It’s such a weird world to live in but made so much easier to make sense of by sharing stories and experiences. So pleased to hear your so. Is doing well. Lots of love to you and your family 💛

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  9. Cried reading this our 3year 7mth was diagnosed June 16 with AML with 2 older sister one younger brother. I always worried about the older girls in school their teachers were great at giving them support and encouragement although both needed to see a play therapist. Cancer ripped us apart for a while but thank God Grace is in remission and doing good although life will never return to what is was before we are so grateful to still have her with us.

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    1. Hi Bernadette, Thank you so much for your message. I am so pleased to hear that your daughter is in remission. The experience of what we have been through will change us all forever. Love, strength and hope will continue to guide us. Sending you and your family love xxx

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