Returning to School

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)