Supporting your student at diagnosis

Supporting your student at diagnosis

Parents are often so overwhelmed after receiving their child's diagnosis that they haven't considered the impact of cancer on their child's education.

Key points to remember

  • choose a key contact person to liaise with your student's family/whānau
  • sharing information can help establish a culture of care and support and reduce uncertainty
  • a student's cancer diagnosis can stir up a lot of emotions for school staff members and other students

A young girl writing at a desk

Choose a key contact person

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

Parents are often so overwhelmed after receiving their child's diagnosis that they haven't considered the impact of cancer on their child's education.

It is a good idea to have one key contact person from the school. This could be the principal, your student's main teacher, their syndicate leader or their favourite teacher. It could also be their family support coordinator. Early on, this key contact person can pass on the best wishes of the school and let your student's family/whānau know that the school is there to provide support.

While it is important to stay in touch and help your student and their family/whānau to feel connected with your school or early learning centre, you will need to respect the family's wishes about contact and sharing of information.

Ongoing communication

You may find that parents will not want to give out much information at first - especially if they are still finding out what their child's treatment will involve. However, once treatment starts, many families welcome the opportunity to share information and have contact with teachers and their child's classmates.

School often represents hope for the future for parents and your student who has cancer. Sharing information can help establish a culture of care and support and reduce uncertainty.

It is important to discuss with the family/whānau what information they would like to share with staff and other families and how they would like to stay in touch.

Respecting privacy

Some families may prefer not to share any information about a diagnosis. While this can be challenging for school staff, respecting family/whānau privacy is essential.

If the family/whānau is willing to share information, the family/whānau and the school's primary contact person should work together to decide what information to share with what audiences. If your student has siblings, it is a good idea to tell their teachers, coaches and counsellors, so that they have accurate information rather than having to rely on guessing and rumours.

Effect on staff

Remember that 80 in 100 children survive cancer.

Some staff members may have previous experience with cancer, either as a patient themselves or as a friend or relative of a cancer patient. A student's cancer diagnosis can stir up a lot of emotions for these and other staff members.

It is a good idea to remind them that 80 in 100 children with cancer survive and that it is important to focus on their continuing education.

Providing regular updates (that the family/whānau is happy to share) will stop staff from jumping to the worst conclusions. It will also provide an opportunity to think about how they can support your student and their family/whānau and keep them involved in the school or preschool community.

Establish the facts

It's a good idea to establish how to refer to your student's illness (cancer, tumour, leukaemia, or other appropriate terms). The right term may vary depending on the age of your students. It's also important to prepare a plan for how to share information with staff and students.

Answering students' questions

Children in your classroom will naturally have questions about their classmate's cancer. See Common questions kids ask about cancer for some suggestions on how to answer these questions.

What can you and your class do to help?

Children with cancer love hearing from their friends and classmates while they are away from school. Sending cards, pictures or drawings that they can put up on their hospital room wall is a great idea. They can also send text messages or use other messaging platforms like FaceTime, WhatsApp, Snapchat or Facebook to send messages of support.

Keeping in touch lets your student with cancer know their friends are thinking about them. It also helps classmates to feel that they are 'doing something'.

Your class may want to start fundraising for their classmate with cancer straightaway. It is best to talk to the family/whānau first before setting up any kind of fundraising activities.

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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