BMT survivors face a new set of challenges when they prepare to return to school. Along with the obvious concerns that first arose during transplant, of the student being able to access and continue with an appropriate educational program at home and in the hospital , come new concerns both social and academic. Young survivors may have temporary or ongoing learning difficulties post-transplant, as well as physical limitations. Planning the educational program for the BMT survivor will be a first step, in most cases. Parents need to serve as advocates for their child at school, and to engage school personnel in working with them to meet their child’s needs. Some students may need to continue with a tutoring or a home-based program.Others may need to undergo appropriate assessments and have arrangements made for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designed to meet their needs. Some families may choose to pursue homeschooling or private school placement for their child.
A major concern, which may delay the return to school, is to protect the child from infections until the brand-new immune system is working well enough to be able to fend off the ordinary germs which spread so easily in the school environment. The “common cold” can be deadly for recently-transplanted survivors. But having to be away from school cuts the student off from normal contact with peers, adding to a sense of isolation and other psychological stresses. Attendance may have to be sporadic if the BMT survivor faces new or recurring health problems. Students who must miss school due to illness are eligible for special modifications in their program of instruction, assignments, and/or to address physical barriers to their participation in school.
After BMT, students may also struggle with body changes caused by treatment such as fatigue, baldness, steroid-induced weight gain and growth of facial hair, and problems with muscles, and joints; all of which serve as reminders of their vulnerability and difference from peers. While peers might react unkindly to peers perceived as different, they also can also be remarkably supportive and helpful when they have been prepared to understand the situation of their fellow student. Many times, schools, teachers, and classmates may have been part of a patient’s support system during BMT.
There are now a variety of resources available that parents can use to help educate school personnel about the needs of their child returning to school after BMT. Some support organizations also offer in-service training programs for schools, and also age-appropriate programs specifically for students. Helpful resources include:
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Trish Greene Back to School Program for Children with Cancer
- Welcome Back: Facilitating the Return to School for Children with Cancer chapter education program. An education program for school nurses and other school personnel discusses possible emotional, physical and cognitive late effects of cancer treatment in children. Contact Patient Services Manager for the LLS WA/AK Chapter to schedule at your school
- Learning and Living with Cancer: Advocating for your child’s educational needs. Downloadable booklet for parents
Educating the Child with Cancer, A Guide for Parents and Teachers
Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation
Ped-Onc Resource Center: Back to School
Association of Cancer Online Resources
Practical Help for Parents: School
Childhood Leukemia Center (O’Reilly Patient Centered Guides)