Youth Cancer

Going to School When You Have Cancer

Maintaining a sense of normality by going to school as much as possible can help you get through your cancer experience. School is probably a major part of your life and is where most of your friendships are formed.

  • It can be scary thinking about what will happen to your schoolwork, friends and activities while you are undergoing treatment.
  • When you are having chemo or radiotherapy and are feeling sick, you won't always be able to keep up with what's going on at school. It's hard enough to keep up to date with schoolwork never mind what's going on in the lives of your friends etc.
  • Many young people who have been through cancer treatment feel it's important to go back to school as soon as possible – not easy, but many say that it made them feel a little more normal again.
  • But after a long period of absence it's normal to feel nervous as well as excited about going back. You may feel self conscious about the changes in your life and unsure how others will deal with them.
  • Some young people find it helpful to have a professional visit their school to prepare and educate the teachers and students about cancer and how to treat people who are living with cancer.


  • You may find that there is a change in your friends' reactions to you at school. They may not know how to act around you but try and be honest with them and explain your situation.
  • Tell them you haven't changed and that you just want to be a treated like normal. Let them know what you're willing to talk about and if it's okay to ask questions.

Remember: It's probably their first time dealing with cancer so they will need some guidance.

  • If you look different because of your treatment and you're worried about how your friends will react the first time they see you, set up a first meeting somewhere familiar. Invite your friends over to your house or go to the movies.
  • That way they can get used to your new appearance, and when you go back to school there will be some familiar friendly faces to make it easier.


  • Your cancer experience may also cause a change in your performance at school. This may be a direct result of being absent, or other factors like poor concentration, lack of motivation, emotional difficulties and physical difficulties.
  • If you encounter difficulties processing, retaining and learning new information (more than usual :-) talk to your teachers and parents.
  • Ask them to work together with the school to develop reasonable expectations for what you can achieve academically while dealing with this. This is especially important if you are in Year 11 or Year 12 and it affects your finals.
  • It's a hard balance to strike – you don't want special treatment but at the same time you can't pretend that nothing is happening. The thing is, lots of people get special consideration all the time for different reasons. It doesn't have to be a big deal and you don't have to tell everyone about it.

Remember: It’s not bludging – it’s just recognising that things are really hard right now.