Common questions kids ask about cancer

Common questions kids ask about cancer

Children often have many questions about cancer. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

Can you catch cancer like you catch a cold?

This is part of a whole section on education when a child has cancer for teachers and parents.

No, you can't catch cancer like you catch a cold or the flu. Cancer happens when there are sick cells inside our bodies and they can't be spread to anyone else.

Why did they lose their hair? Will it grow back?

They lost their hair because they need to take special medicine to get rid of all the sick cells in their body. This medicine sometimes also gets rid of some healthy cells too, like hair cells, because it's trying to do a really good job of making them well again. Their hair will grow back after they have finished taking their special medicine.

Did they get cancer because they were bad? Is this punishment?

No, they weren't bad and getting cancer is nobody's fault. Sometimes the doctors know why someone gets cancer and other times they don't but they always know how to help them.

Will they come back to school for good?

Sometimes kids with cancer come back to school for good but other times they need to return to the hospital every once in a while to get better. We don't know for sure what their schedule will be like but I know we'll all be happy to see them when they are here.

What is chemotherapy? What is radiation?

Chemotherapy is a special mix of cancer-fighting medicines and radiation is a special cancer-fighting beam. Doctors give one or both of these treatments to people with cancer to help them get better.

Can you die from cancer? Will they die like my grandpa died?

Some people do die from cancer but many, many kids get better. The doctors are very good at helping kids get better and back to being a regular kid.

Once cancer goes away, can it come back?

Cancer can come back but for most people it doesn't. If it does happen, they can go back to their doctor for help.

Can they still go to PE with us when they come back?

Their doctor will tell them when they are able to go back to PE. But, even if they can't do PE now, it doesn't mean that they won't be able to later. Sometimes people who have cancer treatment can feel very tired and it can affect them physically. While each person is different, the school will always find ways to include children in physical activities they can do when they return. There are lots of things that they will be able to do when they are feeling stronger again.

What do they do when they are in the hospital?

They do many different things at the hospital. They will talk to the doctors, get treatment to help them get better and sometimes they even get to play games. Other times, they will just be resting and getting better. They can read and watch movies and play games in their room or in other parts of the hospital too. Sometimes, if it is ok with the healthcare team, they will also be able to have visitors too.

Are they still our friend?

They are definitely still your friend. Just like you miss them while they are away, they miss you too. A really great way to be a good friend during this time is to stay in touch. When people are in hospital, they love to hear from their friends. There are so many ways to stay in touch like email, phone call, text, video messaging or writing them a letter or sending them a card.

This page is based on Psychosocial services: An educator's guide. Welcoming the child with cancer back to school (PDF 365KB) - The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The pages in the childhood cancer and education section of this website have been developed in collaboration with the National Child Cancer Network (NZ), and the Ministry of Education. Content has been approved by the National Child Cancer Network (NZ).

This page last reviewed 20 August 2018.
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