Supporting your student during cancer treatment

Supporting your student during cancer treatment

Once your student and their family/whānau have a clear idea of what their cancer treatment will involve, it is a good idea for you or someone else at your school to talk with their parents about what schoolwork may be appropriate.

Key points to remember

  • good communication is the key to ensuring the right balance between schoolwork and recovery
  • it is best to let your student's family/whānau decide how much homework their child can cope with during treatment
  • some children will be keen to have visits from the start while others will prefer to wait until they are feeling better

2 boys with cancer doing schoolwork

Schoolwork

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

Once your student and their family/whānau have a clear idea of what their cancer treatment will involve, it is a good idea for you or someone else at your school to talk with their parents about what schoolwork may be appropriate.

As treatments can vary greatly, it is also best to let the parents decide how much homework their child can cope with during recovery.

Communication is the key to ensuring the right balance between schoolwork and recovery.

Services such as Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts and Skype can allow your student to sit in on classes. This can mean they not only keep up to date with their classwork, but it also allows them to stay connected with their friends and classmates.

Regional health schools

If your student usually goes to school and is in hospital for more than 2 weeks, a teacher from one of the regional health schools in New Zealand can work with your student. There are 3 health schools that cover New Zealand; Northern Health School, Central Regional Health School, and Southern Health School.

Regional health school teachers work with students with high health needs both in hospital and in the community.

Social contact

"While he was away he would read a book every day. When he came back he'd read all the books his classmates had. It meant he didn't feel like he was missing out on anything". Christina, Noah's mum.

Some children will be keen to have visits from the start while others will prefer to wait until they are feeling better.

There are also some reasons why your student's healthcare team may also advise against visiting at certain times.

In particular, it is very important that children who may be sick or have siblings who are sick, do not visit a child having cancer treatment. This is to reduce the chance of infection. It is especially important that anyone who has had exposure to chickenpox, measles or shingles should not visit.

Talk with your student's family/whānau to discuss whether hospital or home visits will be appropriate.

What should classmates talk about during a hospital visit?

Most children having cancer treatment want to hear what their friends are up to and what has been happening in class. This can often make them feel included rather than being sad that they are missing out. Hospital visits are often easier than most adults expect. Generally, after a few minutes of questions, the classmates will move on to talk about their own experiences.

"What we found really good was that the classrooms would write letters and send cards. It was really nice to keep connected". Roanne, Quinn's mum.

How else can you send support?

When your student is too sick to have visitors, their school friends can help them feel included by sending:

  • regular get well cards and letters
  • texts, emails or other messages
  • photographs or a video diary of the classroom and school activities
  • small presents that can distract your student but are not too demanding (a deck of cards, a book of mazes or Sudoku, stickers, magazines etc)

It is important to remind the class that not getting a thank you note or text in return does not mean their friend is not grateful. Often children in treatment can be too sick, too tired or too busy having treatments or tests to respond, but they appreciate kind acts.

Monkey in My Chair Picture of monkey in the chair

Monkey in My Chair is a complete programme to help you and your classroom keep connected to your sick student.

Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand sponsors the programme which is available for children with leukaemia or other blood cancers.

When your student is away from school, a bigger monkey sits in their chair, while a smaller monkey keeps your student company.

The kits include:

  • the monkey with a backpack
  • a book to help you explain your student's situation to their classmates
  • a teacher companion guide with resources
  • other items for your student and their classmates

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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